“A coming-of-age debut evokes the bittersweet joys and pangs of finding independence in one unforgettable summer away at ‘geek camp.’ Beautifully told by debut author Sarah Combs, this honest and touching story of growing up is imbued with the serene atmosphere of Kentucky’s natural landscape. ”
A friend recommended this book to me, saying it was the best Young Adult book at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest this year. I trusted her advice and it made it one of my selections and I am glad that I did. I met the author when hosting one of the Young Adult panels on the Friday of Bookfest, and she was really nice. She signed my book, and said she would steal my name! She is not on social media however, which could work against her in this day and age.
The book follows a young seventeen year old girl, Gloria, as she prepares to make one of the most important decisions of her life – which college to attend. It helps the story that she falls in love along the way. Even better, it is set in Kentucky, and Gloria, is preparing to go to “geek camp” for four weeks. It is an exclusive program for the bright and talented Kentucky kids, who are then offered a scholarship to attend a Kentucky college for free. The program works to try and keep the best and brightest of those in Kentucky IN Kentucky.
Gloria is a typical teenage girl, with typical teenage problems. This makes the book ever more relatable. She isn’t perfect. Always a good sign. One unique fact about Gloria, however, is that her mother abandoned her and her father, and this is a topic Gloria muses on several times. Listening to her ranting and rambling voice took me back to my seventeenth year, and I greatly enjoyed it. Gloria’s voice shines through and is what truly makes this book worth the read. The book is incredibly well written. I often flag my book, noting special quotes or passages I particularly like. I usually wind up with three or four but this book has 11. One of which was:
“She would murder a perfectly good moment just to take a picture of it, I swear.”
As has been mentioned, the book is set within Kentucky. Gloria herself is from Louisville, so her point a few is different from the other teenagers she talks to who come from rural towns within Kentucky. One of my favorite characters is from a farm his parents own that has been in his family for generations, and though he wishes to get a college degree, his life plans revolve around that farm. The book presents us with characters who know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and characters (like Gloria) who are not so certain anymore what they wish to do. This is very realistic, and great to experience for all.
However, one topic lightly brought up a few times is mountaintop removal and mining. From the synopsis I truly thought mountaintop removal was going to be more of a main point throughout the story. It is not. It causes a couple of fights. They go and visit a site of mountain removal. That’s it. Boom. Bang. Done. I really thought that this could have been a topic brought more into focus. However, the novel achieves what it was meant to within the context of a four week “geek camp” and the character growth of Gloria is a very worthwhile read. It brings to the forefront some of the best things about Kentucky, and that is always a plus.
Young Adult books usually give us romance, and this book does not fail on that front. We see several young relationships, breakups and trouble. Gloria herself also battles with love, and it is a hilarious experience for her. The pace of the book is well set with the plot. There is intrigue, fun and true teenage moments.
Another great advantage to this book is that it gives us a snapshot of the future lives of each individual we come close to, without it being cheesy or simply an addition to the end. I always wonder where the characters will wind up or what choices they will make. This book gave me the answers to this question in a cool, unique way for most of the characters we encounter. I appreciate that more than the author can know.
This book is a very specific genre – Young Adult – as I mentioned. If stories told from a teenage girl’s point of view are not your thing, you will not enjoy it. That is all a matter of preference. However, if you are (at any age!), then pick this one up. It’s a great read, has some wonderful moments in it, and is lighthearted enough to you laugh out loud at least once. If you love to read, and discuss books, you will also enjoy the camp that Gloria attends, and all the moments that come from it.