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Welcome to Camp Horizons, where they pray all day…and get slayed all night!
Nestled against scenic Lake Never, recently outed Tyler Wills has arrived at the secluded conversion camp, where the delusional staff of counselors believes he and his fellow camper’s queer affliction can be healed solely through the power of prayer.
After a full day spent rallying against sadistic deprogramming therapies, the deranged camp director, and planning his escape, Tyler discovers a larger problem—a mysterious stranger has rolled into camp with a grudge to settle and a very sharp axe.
When night falls, the terror and body count rise. And Tyler, along with his fellow campers, find themselves trapped between a brutal, unrelenting killer and their holier-than-thou prey as they desperately search for a way to survive the Long Night at Lake Never.
There is a lot to be said about this book, both good and bad. To start with, the good, namely Tyler, the young, obnoxiously confrontational and plucky hero, heart-broken by the betrayal of his parents who decided that they couldn’t love the person he was, and angry that he is simply not enough for them. So he pushes, and pushes hard, trying to force them to open their eyes and look at him. But his father is better at looking away, and his mother better at looking down, so Tyler ends up at Camp Horizon where he meets the three young men with whom he’ll be sharing a cabin.
There’s Jamal, a young, black drag queen, child of a prominent defense lawyer in Atlanta who simply refuses to have a flamboyantly fabulous non-binary child instead of the son he expected. Jamal is fearless, clever, and — in his own way — just as hurt as Tyler, falling back on the expected “Yas, queen” and tongue pops that are comfortable and, with Jamal’s wit, as sharp as any cutting retort. Chris is a handsome football player caught with his tutor and who isn’t certain about his sexuality. He may be bi, or gay, simply experimenting, or even taken advantage of, but his parents didn’t care to give him the time to figure it out, shipping him off to camp so they didn’t have to deal with it. And then there’s Myer, a young man convinced his sexuality is a sickness that can and must be cured. He asked to come because he believes he’s broken, and broken things need to be fixed.
This is a horror book, in the vein of the campy ‘70s slasher flicks, but I didn’t get far enough into the story for the killer to be explained or exposed. In the second chapter, there’s a brutal and graphic murder scene where “The Man,” the villain of the story, kills two camp guides. The scene didn’t work for me for a few reasons. The first, for all the graphic description of injuries and blood, there are also odd turns of phrase, such as using “dome” instead of “skull” or “head,” or one character thinking that “laments were a moot point now.” They altered the tone from schlocky horror to something that, personally, just felt out of place and forced. And second, and a very personal second, the title “The Man” didn’t work for me. The name just doesn’t evoke a sense of fear or intimidation; it just feels like a poke at the patriarchy with “The Man” going after the campers.
There are good points to what I read of this book, moments that I wish I could have enjoyed more, such as Tyler defending himself against the camp head, Bob, using bible verses of love and acceptance to counter hate. There is a good message in Tyler standing up for himself and being concerned for the two boys who share his cabin who, unlike himself and Jamal, don’t seem to know themselves yet, or have the confidence or strength to defend against the insidious conversion nonsense the camp is preaching.
However, in the portion I read, there are frequent misused words and editing issues, along with with so many misplaced and missing commas and oddly placed em dashes: “[…]don’t get up until you’re sure God has come— to you with the strength you’ll need to guide our charges.” There is also the occasional but noticeable malapropism, such as “the cabin seemed more like a grand empty ballroom, expect Tyler assumed— and correctly— there’d be no dancing.” It became overly distracting, and I’d find myself reading and re-reading sections, trying to understand what was being said, where the emphasis was supposed to be, or who was supposed to be talking — and to whom — before I just gave up. I was finding it almost entirely unreadable.
Unfortunately, with the book having so many issues, I just couldn’t bring myself to continue on to find out what happens to Tyler, Jamal, and Chris, whose parents sent them to the camp to be “fixed” and Myer, who asked to come, afraid of his own sexuality. I even wanted to know what happened to Bob and the others, but, in its current state, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep reading. Hopefully there will be a reissue in the future with these mistakes corrected, because I really think Tyler could be an interesting character given another chance.