Twelve-year-old Kammy Whitlock had been fine living with just her dad since her mom died when she was only four. Although she gets along OK with her new stepmom, the addition of a troublesome toddler and a crying new baby has pushed her over the edge.
Against her wishes, her parents have decided that Kammy needs a break from home life until her siblings have settled in. Kammy goes to Camp Arrowhead with the understanding that if she’s miserable, she can come home after two weeks. If not, she’ll stick it out the rest of the summer. But surviving even two weeks is going to be tough—she’s already gotten lost at night and made an enemy of Susie. Maybe Kammy just doesn’t fit in anywhere.
I received Bummer Summer from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Bummer Summer, first published in 1983, was Ann M. Martin’s first book. Yes, that Ann M. Martin, author/creator of The Baby-sitters Club series. Along with the BSC, I had read some, but not all, of her other work before I picked up Bummer Summer. I was worried that the book would be slightly dated, but other than a few minor details (like the references to alligator shirts, or the camp director’s surprise that Kammy’s parents both work), it wasn’t. Kammy didn’t seem to have a cell phone, but I don’t remember her taking or receiving any calls before going to camp. Sure, most kids her age in 2014 are probably glued to their phones, but Kammy didn’t have many friends who would have been calling or texting anyway.
Kammy went through a lot of changes in a short period of time, and she didn’t deal with them very well. Kammy had always had all of her father’s attention until he met a newly-single pregnant younger woman. Six months later, they were married and Kammy had a new stepmother, a three year old stepsister nicknamed Muffin, and a two month old stepbrother who didn’t have a name yet, which is the stupidest thing ever. By this time, the woman had almost a year to think of a name for her baby. What was the holdup? Kammy just called him, privately, Baby Boy. Good enough.
Kammy had a difficult time adjusting to living with these new family members, which is what led her father to suggest she spend the summer at camp. Kammy and I were both torn between feeling like her father was sending her away and thinking it was a good idea to get away from the chaos at home.
Even though Kammy had trouble getting along with her new stepmother, Kate wasn’t a bad person or even a wicked stepmother. She was just looking out for her own children, who were much younger than Kammy, and sometimes lacked the very patience she expected Kammy to have. She really reached out to Kammy through letters she sent to camp. I thought that was a great way for them to connect and yet not have to deal with each other on a day-to-day basis. Kammy’s father put it very well when he said the new family had to learn to settle into a routine and that when Kammy returned from camp, things would be calmer and easier. At the same time, I’m not sure that letting Kammy skip out on the settling in period would be beneficial for her in the long run — wouldn’t she feel more left out? — but he was right that she wasn’t happy at home.
Muffin sounded adorable in her good moments, when she wasn’t being too rough with Kammy’s kitten or dumping her paints into the toilet. I can see her looking up to Kammy as they grow up and wanting to be just like her. Kammy would be a good role model for a little girl. She wasn’t perfect and had a bad attitude sometimes, but who doesn’t?
I never went to camp, so I love camp books. Bummer Summer was not short on the fun activities of camp life: horseback riding, arts and crafts, and swimming in the lake. The only thing missing was the ever-popular Color War, but maybe that came later into the camp season. Camp lasted 8 weeks, I think, and Bummer Summer only covered the first two.
While there was nothing new or unique about it, Bummer Summer was a fun read, perfect for summer. It put me in the mood to read more middle grade books, and I’m hoping for more camp books, too.