This is a compelling story about a group of teens who meet at a camp for artsy kids, kids who are not into sports, kids who are more interested in creative endeavors, kids who are just beginning to find themselves, kids who may never realize who they are or what they want to do, kids who make irreversible mistakes. They are all coming of age. It is a summer of discovery for all of them which continues through the following decades that they remain in touch.
It begins in the summer of 1974. Julie’s father has just passed away, at the untimely age of 42. When she receives a scholarship to attend the camp, Spirit in the Woods, her mom decides it would be good for her to go. While there, she flourishes. When some teens get together in a camp tepee and decide to form a group that will continue to be best friends forever, into the future, she is flattered to be invited to attend; Ash and Goodman, (sister and brother), Jonah, Kathy, Ethan (an animation genius) and Julie, the newbie, round out the circle of six. When they call her Jules, she adopts the name ever after. She does comedy routines at camp and comes out of her shell. She and Ash remain best friends into adulthood and all of them remain friends, throughout the years, periodically getting together again. For the most part, they support each other and are positive influences in each other’s lives.
The story follows these characters from the summer of Nixon’s resignation to the ten year anniversary of 9/11, when they are in their fifties. Each of their lives plays out in a different direction. They remain friends all through the ensuing years, some becoming more successful than others. Each finds their own way. Two of them marry, one is gay, one accuses another of rape, one marries someone outside the circle (Dan), and one runs off and assumes another identity in order to escape the errors of his ways. All of them are fully formed, and we live with them, their failures, successes, mistakes and conflicts as they age and face the exigencies of life.
There is some crude language and also there are unnecessary sex scenes which add nothing to the story’s development. From my perspective, relevant and important subjects, like intermarriage, motherhood, parental death, divorce, separation, the Aids epidemic, premarital sex, drug use, and even autism, are only casually referenced and not fully explored, while, at the same time, largely irrelevant, liberal political views run rampant, throughout the text, at every opportunity. Wealth and the evil it spawns, coupled with its alter ego, privation, a problem apparently caused by the rich, in the author’s view, are mentioned as well. (The expression of the author’s personal political views seems to be a very common theme running through the novels today. Authors seem to want to express their personal views and not so subtly plant references to them.)The story is sometimes repetitious as it is retold from different character’s points of view as events play out.
These are not perfect characters; they have flawed families and imperfect lives, with all of the sundry normal problems and not so normal ones in evidence. They have emotional trauma, mental and physical issues and even legal problems to deal with at various points of the narrative. All of the themes are knitted together in the end when the story comes full circle. There are villains and heroes.
In the end, it is about life changes and changing needs as we age. It is about money and the lack of it, what money can buy and what money can destroy. It is about beauty and the lack of it. It is about the relevancy and irrelevancy of issues that sometimes seem so important at one stage of life and so trivial at another. Still, sometimes it takes almost a lifetime to work out the effects of some events in our lives, in order to move forward and live again. Life isn’t fair and it isn’t a fairy tale. It is not for sissies.
Absent the political bias which flies off the pages expressing the author’s dislike of conservative politics, it is a really “interesting” study of a group of teens as they grow and mature, learn how to make choices, some good and some bad, and come to realize that being “interesting” is in the eye of the beholder and its importance depends on circumstances and moments in time. There are many poignant moments, and moments of truth, witnessed by the reader for each of the characters. In the end, most of the characters are altruistic and soon discover that money does not always lift up the rich, but often corrupts them. It is a person’s behavior, hopes and dreams that define them, not their money or position or their popularity and beauty.