4 out of 5
When Gen’s mom drags the family to “Frontier Family Camp” for the summer, Gen is sure she’ll hate it. Who wants to spend a summer milking cows and peeing in an outhouse, cut off from her friends and the whole post-1890 world? She can’t stand the thought, so she sneaks her cell phone to Wisconsin and texts her best friends about life on the prairie. One of her friends uses the texts to start a blog about Gen’s adventures, and just shares the blog with a few kids…
It’s a delightful experience to be surprised by a book. Like Gen’s mom, Frontier Family Camp kind of sounds like my dream summer. (I’ll admit, I googled to see if anything like this really exists, but I failed to find it. Alas.) I spend so much time thinking and educating people about where our food comes from that texts like, “Making butter is the stupidest waste of time in the world, considering you can go buy butter in any grocery store in the world any day you want” disposed me crankily towards Gen, however appropriate an attitude that is for a modern teenager. I expected this to be a typical-teen-learns-about-herself-through-a-difficult-experience book with an unusual premise, and to some extent I was right.
It fortunately turned out to dig a bit deeper than that. Gen is honest with herself as she leaves camp about the things she’s come to love about life on the prairie (open space, farm animals, fresh-baked bread and butter, her newfound closeness with her brother) and the things she will hate forever (outhouses, heavy wool dresses, 1890 laundry techniques). A near-tragedy at the end causes even the camp families most prone to frontier romanticizing to question what might be good about the 21st century (hospitals, medication, and helicopter airlifts). As someone also prone to romanticizing the “simpler times” when I could have spent all my days baking and preserving, I appreciated the reminder. (It also touches lightly but crucially on the issue of internet privacy, and how anything you put out there can quickly get far more “out there” than you intended.)
There are plenty of problems with this book, no doubt (They don’t get any training before being tossed into a cabin and expected to cook for themselves? Really?), but it’s funny and warmhearted, and left me thinking about how we can have more of the good of the 19th century without losing the good of the 21st.