Whether it’s changing schools, changing neighborhoods, or heading off to summer camp, it’s tough to leave close friends behind—especially when you’re a young woman lacking self-confidence and wondering how others will judge you.
In her second book for young readers, called Slept Away (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009), author Julie Kraut has written the perfect gift for moms to bring their daughters on camp visiting day to allay anxieties and any remnants of the nearly universal camper affliction: homesickness. I recently interviewed Julie about summer camp and friendship.
Julie, what made you pick this setting for your novel?
Camp was an important part of my teen experience and after coming up with Laney Parker, my main character, it seemed like sending her to camp would make for an interesting plotline with lots of hilarious scenes. And even though Slept Away isn’t the love letter to summer camp I’d write if I were telling my own story, it was still fun to use the writing process as a chance to reminisce about my summers away.
What role does friendship play in the storyline?
Big time. One of the reasons Laney is so anti-camp is that she doesn’t want to leave her New York social life behind. Once at camp, making it in the camp social scene is a huge obstacle for her. She’s lost and completely unfamiliar with her role as new girl outcast. And I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but Laney’s summer takes a turn for the better when she finds herself mingling with some very unlikely new buds.
Why do young women form close bonds at summer camp?
At camp, your bunkmates are more than just summer friends. They’re your summer family. You develop an intense and fast trust with and dependence on your bunkmates because you’re alone together in a new environment.
What are some tips for making friends at camp?
- Be nice to the new girl. You were once her, remember?
- Share. It won’t feel like only half a Hershey bar when you’ve got half the bar and a full friend.
- Pitch in. Someone who enjoys the fire when she didn’t collect any of the firewood doesn’t make for an appealing buddy.
How can new friends help combat "homesickness"?
Homesickness hits the worse when you’re not busy and your mind can wander. Friends make keeping occupied a lot easier. It’s a lot harder to miss your annual Fourth of July family reunion BBQ when you’re cheering on a new friend who’s trying a pike from the high dive for the first time. Plus, like I said, bunkmates become your summer family and solid friendships can help compensate for what you’re missing at home.
Should a young woman go to camp with a friend from home?
That’s a personal decision and it depends on what you want to get out of camp. It also may vary based on age and maturity. If you’re hoping to learn how to thrive in a new community and challenge yourself by being on your own, then a BYOF (Bring Your Own Friend) situation probably isn’t the right first move. If being comfortable and keeping a close connection to your home life are your priorities, then going with a friend from home might fit your summer needs. Plus, it will give you a special experience to share with someone you already know you love.
What are some of the perils of friendships at camp?
Maintaining a friendship post summer is probably the hardest part. At camp, a close friendship can feel effortless. Your lives are intertwined and your activities are planned. When you and your friend are back at your respective homes, you may have to work to find topics that you can discuss, take road trips to see each other, and put some effort into the calls and e-mails it takes to stay in touch. It’s a big change from the breeziness of how a camp friendship started.
What makes some of the friendships "stick" and others fade away?
Some friendships are summer flings and others are life-long relationships. I can’t say what determines where a camp friendship will land. But I will say, put effort into maintaining your friendships over the school year, but don’t force it. There’s absolutely no way that you can be in as close contact with a camp bud over the school year as you were during the summer, so don’t expect that. Appreciate the contact you do have with your summer pals and do your best to remind them of how important they are to you throughout the school year.
I just got back from a party with two of my former counselors and one of my best friends on the entire planet was in my first bunk when we were nine years old. Aside from summertime, my best friend from camp and I were long distance friends. We kept in great touch through letters at first and then e-mail and visits. We wound up going to the same college together, which was such a treat. We’ve both graduated now and are back to being long distance friends, but we still e-mail, talk, and visit.