Read an eGalley courtesy of the publisher
Trigger/Content warning: death of a sibling, body horror, blood, bleeding, kidnapping, hazing
In the middle of the night when she’s supposed to be away at her prestigious summer camp, Mars’ sister Caroline attacks them within their family home. The encounter ends in tragedy, with a tidy explanation, but Mars suspects the camp itself might have had a hand in the violence. They take her spot, and they start learning about what lurks within bucolic Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy.
I had a fun time getting lost in the haze of La Sala’s prose which deftly takes the reader from summer’s bliss to a trippy nightmare. It’s entertaining and really fun for folks who have seen films like Hereditary and Annihilation, but stars a badass genderfluid teen determined to find out the truth about his sister’s death.
What really worked here is, for lack of a better word, world-building around the structures, rules, and layout of the Summer Academy. There are so many details that make the place seem idyllic, but in a very Stepford Wives kind of way. From the values to the rituals to the antagonism between the boys and girls rooted in heteropatriarchy. There’s a cult-y element to such complexes, and La Sala leans hard into the aesthetic and vibe. The prose navigates horror and beauty with ease, making this read a deeply visual experience as well (there are bits with the honey that had me physically recoiling).
The way Mars navigates grief almost makes the emotion a secondary character. While the plot doesn’t readily forget why Mars is at the camp, there are also really subtle reminders throughout. The nods to Caroline having a character beyond her death are expertly woven throughout, especially as the pace increases and discoveries nearly turn into deadly accidents. It’s extremely well done.
Seeing the social dynamics through Mars’ perspective added to the tension in a way that didn’t distract from the mystery of Caroline’s death. Two things can be stressful and concurrent. I won’t go into specifics to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible, but the way Mars navigates the boys and girls cabins plays a role. The differences in identity and characters’ relationship with their identity adds even more uncertainty with regards to who Mars can trust with both their true intention of going to camp and their personal safety. While Mars’ experience of gender doesn’t match my own, I think it’s neat to have a horror book steeped in genre savvy with a queer teenager at its helm.
Overall, a fun nightmare featuring cliques, summer camp, and bees. So many bees.