By Jessica Verdi
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Ex-gay camps are a controversial topic. It's been long proven that they aren't effective and that they often hurt people, but for some reason they still exist and have their supporters. THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME takes a surprisingly balanced take on a gay conversion camp, although it does take a turn for the melodramatic toward the end.
Lexi is a lesbian, and has known it for a long time. However, her mom just found out and didn't take it well. Lexi agrees to go to a conversion camp because her mother has been very fragile since her dad died and she wants to make her mother happy. The other campers all have their own reasons. Some genuinely want to become straight. Some were forced there. They've also got a wide range of views on whether the camp will do anything and how ridiculous the exercises are.
The gay conversion camp certainly provides an interesting setting. The campers are forced into rigid gender roles; fortunately, Lexi's wry narration points out how stupid that it. A straight woman who never marries is perfectly alright, and more still straight than a lesbian who marries a man because that's what women do. Gender presentation is a whole 'nother beast.
I also really liked and felt for the characters. Lexi and her small group - Carolyn, Matthew, and Daniel - are all endearing, and stuck in a tough spot. Of course, Lexi falls for Carolyn the moment she sees her. (Ah, the problem of sticking a bunch of lesbians in one dorm and gay boys in the other.) It's rough though, since Carolyn definitely wants the whole "straight" thing to work, for very valid reasons.
For the most part, I enjoyed THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME. It was a sweet romance that showcased an unpleasant reality, but in a non-sensational manner. Then things took a turn for the sensational. I'm not sure how I feel about it. Certainly such abuses do take place at ex-gay camps, and it's one reason they should be closed. At the same time, it took the focus away from Lexi and her growing confidence in herself. Worse, it felt like shock value. It just went a touch over the top in a book that underplayed the sensational nature of the topics tacked.
I recommend THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME to fans of quiet contemporary fiction, difficult love stories, and teen issues. It's a story that really reaffirms the power and courage of love.