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An Adirondack coming-of-age adventure

“I felt as if I were shedding my skin, shaking things loose that I didn’t need anymore.” This is my favorite line from “Camper Girl,” by Glenn Erick Miller. Eighteen-year-old Shannon Burke realizes that she can manage with less, and even flourish, after overcoming obstacles she thought impossible just a few weeks earlier.

As she follows a very personal treasure hunt set up by her favorite Aunt Rebecca, she begins to detach herself from her family, her friends and her phone. This necessary, painful phase for teenagers and their parents changes every self-limiting idea Shannon has held close for protection.

During this quarantined year of COVID, it was a treat following Shannon vicariously through northern New York into Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake village and eventually to Lake Placid. But Shannon’s trip is not just a physical one; it’s also an emotional one. She travels up and down the figurative mountains and valleys from apathy to excitement, from despair to bright confidence, and from confusion to determination. She describes herself as someone who always coasts until things get difficult and then bails out, but she confronts this habit. When she begins her treasure hunt, she is feeling lost and resentful, but by the time she hits Lake Placid, Shannon is starting to understand herself better, thanks to her Aunt Rebecca.

As a coming-of-age story, this novel follows the familiar formula of a teenager who becomes more independent, stronger and confident after facing fears and reflecting on her past and future. The structure of the novel is perfect for a typical (possibly reluctant) young adult reader: The novel is 173 pages long; the chapters are short and focused; the exposition, which can be long and dreary in some books, sets up the reader’s expectations succinctly; and the main character is a normal kid who is trying to figure out her life as best she can.

What makes this tale special, in addition to Shannon’s introspective nature, is the North Country setting. I found myself stopping to research some of the villages I haven’t visited in years and visualizing the landmarks in other villages. Even not-so-young readers can relearn to explore their wishful wanderlust along with Shannon.

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