I have a huge soft spot for this type of book. I don’t know why, since I am so clearly not the demographic it’s aimed at, but I do. Curtis Sittenfield, Laurie Graham, you know the type. It’s why I had such high hopes for Tigers In Red Weather and was so bitterly disappointed when it turned out to be pap. I’ve been wanting to read Disclafani’s debut novel since it was published and now here we are.
Thea Atwell is fifteen years old. It’s 1930, the Great Depression is starting to snake its way through the USA and Thea has been sent to the titular Camp because there has been A Great Scandal in her family. One of which she was the centre of. Missing her family, mostly her twin brother Sam, Thea has to navigate all the expected obstacles of being at, essentially, a boarding school with horses and girls. There’s popular girls, rich girls, blah blah blah. They’re all called things like Hennie and Jettie and painted in such broad strokes it’s kind of difficult to engage with them.
That’s possibly on purpose. Thea is our narrator and she is one spectacularly selfish teenager. She seems to care for nobody but herself and pays scant attention to anything that doesn’t really involve her. The scandal which caused her to be sent away is gradually revealed to the reader, but it’s done so while Thea carries on an affair with the Camp’s headmaster. She does so actively and knowingly and it made me want to punch her in her smug stupid face. It makes it pretty tough to care about or for our plucky heroine. I can’t quite discern whether Disclafani is judging her or idolising her, but either way, she’s a vile little bitch.
When I got to the end of the novel, I didn’t give two shits about Thea, but I did feel sorry for everyone who had crossed paths with her. Not least the twin brother she apparently cared so much about, after it becomes clear she is seemingly incapable of a non-selfish emotion. When he is pouring his heart out to her about the Scandal and his role in it, her response to him is jaw dropping. She tells him it’s not his mess. He asks her whose mess it is then. She replies that she doesn’t know, but “not mine”. Wow. An unpleasant story, nastily told.