I’m not sure what format will work best for this, so bear with me.
Bummer Summer is Ann’s first book, published in 1983. It is about Kammie Whitlock, a twelve-year-old girl whose widower father (sound familiar?) marries Kate, a college professor (who is 25 or 26 and lacks a doctorate, and oh god I’m older than the stepmom is this book). Kate has a three-year-old daughter named Melissa, or “Muffin,” and a two-month-old unnamed baby boy from her first marriage.
This book proves that the fact that the adults in Stoneybrook seem to get divorced and remarried at lightning-fast speed is not a fluke of the time warp. Kammie is introduced to her dad’s new girlfriend at Thanksgiving, and they’re married by summer vacation.
My whole perception of this book was colored by how terrible Kate and her father are. Basically, Kammie, like any normal adolescent would, has trouble adjusting to the fact that her dad, the only parent she has, has remarried and is feeling replaced, plus she has siblings for the first time in her life. So what the adults in this situation do? Instead of trying to understand what Kammie is going to, they ship her off to camp. WTF. Way to make your daughter feel even more abandoned/replaced.
So anyway, Kammie goes to camp. She is there on a trial basis–she has to go for two weeks, and if she doesn’t like it, she can come home. Kammie seems immature for twelve, but honestly, that probably means she is written realistically, and not as a mini-adult like the BSC. She makes bad decisions and gets in trouble and acts kind of bratty sometimes. Kammie has some trouble adjusting to camp, and especially doesn’t like changing in front of the other girls or having to serve food (afraid to spill something/be in front of everyone else), and I thought these were pretty realistic for the age.
As she is at camp, her stepmother writes her letters and this seems to help with their relationship. (It also would have helped if they had let the kid stay at home and adjust to her new family.) By the time Visiting Day rolls around (this camp has them every two weeks; is that normal?), everything is hunky-dory, both with the family and with her time at camp. She is enjoying herself, the baby gets a name, everyone is happy.
This book has been mentioned by several people as being one that they liked a lot out of Ann’s early books. This does not bode well for the rest of the Readalong, since I found myself rushing through this one. I think Kammie was perhaps more multi-dimensional than we often see in BSC, and more imperfect, but I think my enjoyment of this book was spoiled by the fact that I didn’t read it as a child. I think that when you’re a kid, you don’t usually question the decisions of parents and other adults in books, unless the author gives you clues that these adults are supposed to understood as villains. Kammie’s dad and stepmom’s decision to send her off during a time of turmoil when Kammie has a lot of feelings of jealousy and abandonment is surely something that Kammie ended up discussing with a therapist.
Kammie and Kate go shopping at the Quakerbridge Mall, but they’re supposed to be living somewhere in New England, not New Jersey. Quakerbridge doesn’t even make sense as the name of a road in New England, since Quakers were not welcomed there! They were persecuted! She should have really just set her books in New Jersey and specifically in the Princeton area if she wanted to write what she knew, and didn’t feel like doing research about the locales she was writing about.
As someone who has been very resistant to preppiness her whole life, I very much appreciated the “Save an alligator, eat a preppy” shirt, even if “preppy” meant more modern Abercrombie&Fitch than the Abercrombie&Fitch from The Official Preppy Handbook by the time I got to middle school.
Camp Arrowhead has a lot of features in common with Camp Mohawk, such as the curtain around the counselor’s bed. Also there is a festival with a name that no one can remember, just like Lake Dekanawida and all of the jokes about its name.
The plot with Susie reminded me of Mallory’s problems with Alexis at Riverbend. New girl comes, everyone likes her, girl who has been rejected by her peers acts out by destroying something important of new girl’s (Mallory: collage from BSC; Kammie: quilt she’s making for Baby Boy). Mallory is nicer to Alexis than Kammie is to Susie, though.
The Whitlocks are LOADED. Kammie’s mom had ceramic placecards for dinner parties, and their house is mentioned as having three floors plus an attic like it is nothing. Kammie is also taken on a Lacoste shopping spree at the aforementioned Quakerbridge Mall, making her t-shirt all the more ironic. Lacoste is basically just a really big deal in this book. Susie also has a Lacoste towel.
Who doesn’t name a baby for months and months?
Are You There Youth? It’s Me, Nikki on Bummer Summer
Review from 1983 in Kirkus Reviews