Title: Dead Parents Camp
Entry Nickname: The Half-Orphan's Handbook
Word count: 62K
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
After her father’s suicide, Lila Cunningham writes a two-rule handbook to protect herself from experiencing any more pain. One: Love no one. Two: Avoid liars like her dad. Lila’s solution: barricade herself from all relationships – romantic, friendly, or otherwise. Easy enough, until her mother forgets Lila’s sixteenth birthday and over-compensates for it in a major way. Lila’s unwanted gift is a summer away at Camp Bonaventure, a grief camp founded after 9/11. A place where self-isolation equals impossible.
The last thing Lila wants to do is bunk with a handful of other half-orphans tucked far from cell phone service in the woods of Maine. Then, a friendly hazing incident leaves Lila clad in a soaking wet camp-legacy leotard just in time for a meeting with the gorgeous “other new kid” at camp – Noah Kitteridge. To her surprise, someplace between swimming and s’mores, Lila discovers Noah understands her pain. She risks her handbook’s number-one rule and opens up to Noah, sharing intimate details of her father’s lifetime of family deceit. For the first time since death darkened her world, Lila feels lighter – especially once she ditches her weighty handbook and lets herself fall for Noah.
But then Noah vanishes from camp without word, ripping Lila from the tenuous emotional balance she’s struck. Frantic, Lila searches for him – and what she finds crumbles the remnants of the protective wall she’s built. Noah’s not at camp for the same reason Lila is. He’s not even half-orphaned. He’s a liar. Now, Lila must decide between the lesser of two evils: forgive Noah’s deception and risk vulnerability for a chance to experience happiness, or return to the rules and close herself off from everyone again.
My mother would have spent less money on my sixteenth birthday present if she had remembered the occasion in the first place. It wasn’t her fault, though. My birthday came and went on June 1st, when the air was hot and green-smelling, the sun was strong, and my father had been dead exactly one month.
Since Dad chose to check out of Hotel Life on a permanent basis, Mom had been preoccupied with the whole widowhood thing. So she flipped over her calendar page one day late. And cried.
Because she missed my birthday, that “mom guilt” she always wrote about for online magazines compelled her to call my school counselor Dr. Barbash (whom my entire family referred to as Call-Me-Connie). That was how I came home from school on June 2nd, dumped my bag on the counter, and discovered Call-Me-Connie blabbed to my mother about Camp Bonaventure.
And — with a pause for emphasis — my mother was going to spring for it as a belated birthday present.
“I’m not going,” I said, opening the kitchen cabinet.
The hope on her face fizzled. “Call-Me-Connie says it’s amazing, Lila.”
My familiar friend, Panic, stomped into my chest, settling her curvaceous hips into my sternum. “She also says Madonna is talentless. Plus, Call-Me-Connie is a close talker.” My mother would consider the Madonna statement blasphemy, and close talkers skeeve her out.
“Call-Me-Connie’s lack of musical taste — and social violation of personal space — hardly affect her ability to judge what might help you.”