Here’s a confession: I don’t do Jesus. I don’t like queer books with religious themes, I don’t like books about conversion camps, I don’t like gay Christian apologist books with their interminable, inevitable scenes where one character quotes the Bible and the other character dismantles the hate with explanations of what surely this REALLY means (when actually the word ‘abomination’ is pretty clear). I think these books, these conversations, are boring and I have no sympathy for people who’ve bought into these ridiculous, misogynistic mythologies. Having said that, Jessica Verdi’s The Summer I Wasn’t Me is still a very good book.
Lexi’s always known she likes girls. She also knows that this is information best kept to herself, especially after the death of her father and its devastating effects on her mother. So Lexi keeps her crush hidden in a secret notebook. Unfortunately she forgets to hide the notebook. When her mother finds it, all of Lexi’s secrets are exposed and she is forced to spend the summer at New Horizons, a camp that promises to cure her of these feelings.
At first it’s not too bad. Lexi really wants to change, to help reconnect with her mother, and she meets sympathetic friends among her fellow campers. She also meets Carolyn, a beautiful girl whose sadness and struggle surpasses even Lexi’s pain. Soon she and Carolyn are involved much more deeply than camp rules allow, and keeping this new love a secret only exposes the much more sinister secrets of New Horizons. But by this time, Lexi knows that there’s nothing wrong with her, and nothing she won’t do to protect the people she cares about.
What sets this book apart from other books about queer Christians and conversion is the extreme lack of church. I also think it is this aspect which makes the book most interesting and readable. Instead of pages of Biblical debate, we have time to get to know the characters and care about their connections and journeys and growth throughout the story. Lexi is a good protagonist, strong and sure of herself, though vulnerable enough for sympathy and an interesting story arc. Carolyn is a worthy crush, relatably flawed, and theirs is a romance worth rooting for. The rest of the supporting cast is well drawn, too, from their friend Matthew, the voice of resistance, to the deeply creepy camp founder/director, whose true colors come through all too easily. This book may not have the most groundbreaking theme, nor the most innovative storyline, but it is a good, realistic and ultimately hopeful read. Something for which we can all be thankful!
TRIGGER WARNINGS: physical abuse, religious bigotry