Perennials: A Novel by Mandy Berman

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“This was the underbelly of responsibility: When things went wrong, the fingers turned back at you.”

A friendship that begins at summer camp as children carries two young women back to camp as counselors. The story opens at Camp Marigold , Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin become childhood friends bonded by their shared experiences there. As is often the case in the most lasting friendships, the two come from completely different homes and worlds.  Rachel’s raised by a single mother, her father absent- a chunk of her life a secret. Where her mother comes off as a train wreck, and her life less sheltered than Fiona’s, there is love. Denise’s set up with Rachel’s father is complicated and she pulled the short stick but he has means, and not much else to give their daughter. Growing up in a home where a beautiful mother has only herself to rely on  can leave edges on a kid but it also can make them stronger, more outgoing. Rachel has spunk, ease with friends and boys as the girls hit their teens. Her life is full of experience, simply by where she comes from. Her secrets are always bigger than Fiona’s, and there is envy as much as their is love in their friendship. Fiona is another story, where Rachel is fun and worldly, attractive- Fiona feels average and boring. Her side of the friendship is being the ‘responsible one’, always sober about everything in life, in every moment. Can you love and hate your best friend at the same time?

Along with their story, the year the friends return as camp counselors, Fiona’s pretty, shy little sister Helen joins the camp. In many ways, she doesn’t have the same ambition of her siblings, never one to do anything but what she chooses. There is a strain between the sisters, and Fiona often seems negative and sour, so much so that Helen wonders how in the world she and the vibrant Rachel are friends. How can college be so wonderful when her sister is gloomy? Helen is drawn to kids from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ which is anyone less fortunate than her family. Lucky for her, Rachel is in charge of her cabin.

A lot of what hit me is how Fiona victimizes herself despite her privilege and Rachel has much more in her life to whine about and yet doesn’t. Both exhaust each other as they grow, one being more wild the other too tame. There are more stories about counselors and campers, the parents, but the main focus is on Fiona and Rachel. People change, and friendships can be a weight as much as they can uplift you. Life is precious and the universe can seem random, and this final summer at camp is going to change all of them.

I never went to camp, I spent my summers on the beach or swimming in my pool, going to Disney World with whichever relative came around.. but I got a taste of it reading this novel. It’s not just about camp though, in fact it’s more about the pain of shedding our skin as we come of age, drifting away from friends and family. It’s about envy of friends and even siblings, how our parent’s disastrous love molds us and why we need people different from ourselves to grow. The end was sad, didn’t expect that. For those hungry to walk down memory lane of their summers at camp and those who never went and wondered about it. This will be out just in time for summer reading.

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Random House

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