Book review: Death and Love at the Old Summer Camp, by Dolores Maggiore

Maggiore, Dolores. Death and Love at the Old Summer Camp. Sapphire Books Publishing. 2017. $16.95. 288p. PB. 978-1943353774.

I want you to picture the setting of Dirty Dancing. Now imagine Baby falling for Penny instead of Johnny; add some deep, dark, deadly secrets centered on a nearby abandoned boys’ camp, and you’ve pretty much got the basic premise of Dolores Maggiore’s Death and Love at the Old Summer Camp.

The year is 1959, and Pina Mazzini is spending her seventh summer in a row at Owl Lake Lodge in Maine. On top of the lousy vacation setting, Pina’s dealing with some major second-sight, a gift she inherited from her Sicilian grandmother that allows her to catch glimpses of both the future and the past. The only thing keeping her sane is her summer bff Katie. But, her feelings for Katie seem to have moved beyond friendship this year, and Pina’s not really sure how to deal – especially since her perspective on being queer (used in the story in the pejorative sense) is pretty disparaging. Can Pina navigate a burgeoning crush she believes is wrong as well as the terrifying mystery rapidly unfolding through her visions of the past?

I really wanted to love this story. Queer romance set in a summer camp reminiscent of every cliché B-horror film? Seriously, right up my alley. But I had some major issues from the start. First, Maggiore throws us into the thick of things from the beginning, providing very little character development or description. On one hand, this makes perfect sense; Pina’s been coming to this same vacation spot for years now, so it’s going to be hard for us as readers to catch up without the writing getting too clunky. On the other hand, I like to have at least a life vest when I’m thrown head-first into the deep end, which is what being introduced to Pina and her experiences at Owl Lake Lodge felt like.

In addition, Katie and Pina are pretty interchangeable characters. One minute, Katie is the one instigating their investigations while Pina claims a fear of spiders; the next, Katie’s urging Pina to leave a creepy locale, while Pina charges headlong into literal spider webs. Beyond this, all of the characters – from Pina and Katie to their parents – go through sudden, completely mystifying mood and conversational changes that often had me re-reading passages to be sure I hadn’t missed something.

That being said, I did enjoy attempting to untangle the myriad clues Pina and Katie uncovered as they delved into Pina’s visions; fans of spooky mysteries will definitely get a kick out of that aspect of the story. While the book is advertised as YA – probably because the main characters are fifteen – it skews more toward adults interested in atmospheric reads along the lines of Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids.

-Kaitlin Frick, New York Public Library


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