Cameron is home for Christmas in his small hometown of Lindell, Massachusetts, after his freshman semester at NYU–and he might be home for good. Cameron expected to wow the drama department with his fab acting skills, but he felt like a podunk wanna-be compared to the standouts in his classes. He’s sure he didn’t earn high enough grades to maintain his scholarship, and his single dad, who’s working two jobs to support them, can’t pay any more in tuition. While home, Cameron decides to get a job to help defray school costs and–more importantly–to avoid spending time with his dad. Cam adores his self-sacrificing father; he’s just mortified about his (expected) grades and afraid to disappoint dad.
Cam gets hired to be an elf at the newly built mega mall in his hometown. While most elves would just be helping kiddos make their way to Santa for photos, this job is more a Survivor-style competition where five Elves are vying for votes to be the Best Elf–with the winner of the 12-day competition winning a $5000 prize. That kind of cash would help replace the scholarship Cam is on the verge of losing.
Cam is really a fun character to explore. He’s a terrible snob and his internal monologue is utterly scathing–about others and himself. However, the reality check at NYU has Cam truly floundering with his sense of self-worth. His winter break journey is one of owning up to his mistakes and making choices to be a nicer person, to both himself and others. I found Cam very relatable as an 18-year old who had big plans and bigger dreams and is now barely able to imagine moving forward. The other elves are completely different; they are not trained in theater, dance, or music, but they have a lot of heart and are in it to win it. They really challenge Cam to be his best self, and muster his creativity in ways he couldn’t at NYU.
I loved the pacing, with chapters counting down the days to Elf-mas, the end of the competition. Though Cam initially saw his competitor elves as rubes, he’s quickly revising that assumption and battling for his opportunity with all the skills he possesses. In the meantime, he’s building a rapport with Marco, the nicest elf to ever elf. While Cam might entertain the idea to rekindle a fling with his high school ex-boyfriend who also works at the mall, Marco is the boy he’s really catching feelings for. And, learning about Marco’s reasons to win the money really gives Cam perspective. Plus, Marco is darn cute and he seems interested in Cam in that way, too.
The fun and festivities of Christmas are a little lost for Cam, as he wallows in his own issues. And, there’s a person out there who’s determined to ruin Cam’s chances by posting all sorts of bad takes. But connecting with Marco and his bestie Jazz, and coming clean with his insecurities with his father all guide Cam onto a better path, one that is going to lead him into eventual happiness.
I think if you like competition shows, lighthearted YA romance, or holiday books with a touch of swoon, this one is a good pick. I found myself turning the pages quickly and was engaged throughout.