Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
Who else went to sleepaway camp when they were younger? Imagine it for yourself: the old, weathered, paint-chipped wooden buildings throughout the area, the tiny bunk bed cabins, the massive fire pit that overlooked the lake in the woods , the latrines for the communal showers that everyone fought over before the water went cold, the cobwebs in just about every corner of any given space, the massive mosquitos, the early morning roll calls that ended up in the cafeteria with the long tables with benches, and that hot, older camp counselor that all the girls (and me) had a crush on? His name was probably Trevor, Jake, Luke or Josh? God, I love nostalgia.
This book was a great reminder of my younger summer years spent at a camp with everything included above; it brought back the amazing weeks that I truly didn’t appreciate when I was younger. I still remember dreading it on the long bus ride to Amery, WI, but was sad to go by the end of the week.
I am happy to say that no one ever went mysteriously missing or possibly brutally murdered in any of my trips, thank god…but that does bring me more into the book and what it’s about.
With the setting of a seemingly innocent summer camp grounds, Riley Sager managed to cast a shadow upon it and give it an eery edge as he wrote this story. His prose caused a certain level of unease and anxiousness as the mystery developed and more questions stirred along the way; whether the author reveals yet another secret that the camp kept hidden, or with the flashback scenes provided to gain some sort of perspective on it all. It read like a creepy as hell ghost story told around a campfire, causing goosebumps and absolutely no sleep to anyone who listened in.
What It’s About?
15 years prior to the current day events in this story, Emma Davis goes to Camp Nightingale for the first time ever. The camp was an elite, all girls site that catered to only the wealthy and privileged. Emma is not thrilled at all to gather around the campfire and sing some songs, as she’s a couple years younger than the majority of the other campers. She meets her cabin-mates Vivian, Allison, and Natalie. Vivian, who is Regina George level HBIC, takes a liking to Emma and takes her under her wing, to which Emma is thrilled with . Who wouldn’t want the prettiest, most popular girl at camp to befriend her?
The night of the Fourth of July, Emma is woken up in her cabin to witness the three girls sneaking out; Vivian even doing the Pretty Little Liars-esque pointer finger to her lips motion with a mischievous wink as she closes the door behind her.
Emma had no idea that she would never see any of them ever again.
It became the mystery of the summer; three rich girls disappear without a trace, lost in the woods or taken by the lake. The police get involved, volunteer search parties are formed, but no one is able to find any trace of them except for a hoodie found on the opposite side of the lake. With no luck towards their whereabouts, the camp is closed down, and everyone is sent home with their lingering fears and questions that would never be answered…
15 years later…Emma Davis has become an up and coming artist that is making her name amongst the New York art scene with the gallery opening of her large canvas paintings that were inspired by that summer; girls in white dresses lost in the woods, being buried behind dark, elongated and warped branches that were as black as a midnight sky. It had been her way of grieving her loss, but she never expected to come face to face with Camp Nightingale’s owner, Francesca Harris-White, to show up at her gallery and invite her back to the reopening of the camp, but this time as a counselor. She too wants to be able to move forward, and maybe all this time later having one last summer away would help them get a sense of closure on the terrors that still haunt them. Reluctant at first, Emma can’t help but be drawn by the answers that she seeks, so she agrees to return.
She sets foot back on the campgrounds, and all the memories of that summer 15 years ago comes rushing back, including Francesca’s oldest son, Theo. Theo, the counselor that all the girls, including Emma, had a crush on, but also the man who Emma accused the disappearances on and had listed as a prime suspect. That’s not even the weirdest thing though; Emma discovers a hidden security camera looking in on her cabin one night, watching whoever comes and goes. From then on, strange things begin to happen to her, and she believes that someone, or some supernatural force, is threatening her and stopping her from digging any further…
What I liked:
- The Writing Style! Like I said earlier, I really connected with the author’s prose and how he told the story. He wrote in such a way that puts you at unease, adding more and more tension into the story as it escalated, expertly building the anticipation like a horror movie; viewers anxiously waiting for something to pop out at them, all the while dread builds in the pit of their stomachs. It was chilling to see a place as innocent as a summer campground become dark, ominous, and sinister as more secrets are dug up, revealing more going on behind closed doors than you ever thought imaginable.
- The Switch from Present to Past! Normally, I’m not a fan of flashback scenes because of how they usually can disrupt the pace of the story. It may just be me, but I do know for sure that they’re not my cup of tea. This story is an exception, because the scenes are at least consistent, and gives you an answer to the question that the previous chapter from current day presents you. They also gave you just enough information to help you make your own connections , like pieces of a puzzle, but not make it super obvious, thus allowing you to find everything out with the main character.
- No One Can Be Trusted! The author created a great cast of characters in the sense that they all are incredibly questionable when you meet them throughout the story. Some are more warm and welcoming than others, but you get the sense that everyone is keeping secrets, and you don’t know who’s as innocent as you initially thought, and wonder how much everyone actually knows.
- The Ending! HOLY SHIT…the last chapter, or actually, the very last three pages just add such an over the top, shocking reveal that was equally heart-pounding as it was unexpected and made me hope for a sequel that will never happen, but could seriously become a whole new thriller on its own. I didn’t see it coming at all; I had to reread it several times in order to absorb what happened as the shock slowly wore off.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Lesser Developed Characters…While they certainly add to the many mysteries that sprout up like weeds in the story, the characters fall flat in terms of feeling fleshed out and well developed. I wish the author put more time into them, but you could possibly overlook this with the overwhelming thrills that the plot gives to the overall story.
- Untrustworthy Narrator…Emma, of course, is the narrator of the story, but it became frustrating at times because she withheld valuable information until the very last moment, and also just seeming judgemental of the other female characters when she described them, only focusing on the negative aspects. It’s obvious that she still suspects Theo may have had something to do with the girls disappearance, it also becomes apparent that the other characters may in fact actually suspect her, and with you getting an inside look into her mind and how it operates, you yourself even wonder at some points…
This book is a chilling thriller that is perfect for anyone wanting to find a fun summer read. It can transport you back in time and remind yourself of the camp you went to when you were younger, or paint a vivid and realistic picture of what it was like for those that didn’t share that experience. The story may not be for everyone who considers themselves a mystery/thriller fan, but the author does a great job of driving the story forward with his prose, making it a fast, easy read that may make you stay safe inside as things go bump in the night.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell