How to Survive a Summer by Nick White

How to Survive a Summer

Nick White

With a masterful confluence of sensibility and place, How to Survive a Summer introduces an exciting new literary voice from the American South.

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“Packed with story and drama … If Tennessee Williams’s ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ could be transposed to the 21st-century South, where queer liberation co-exists alongside the stubborn remains of fire and brimstone, it might read something like this juicy, moving hot mess of a novel.” –Tim Murphy, The Washington Post 

A searing debut novel centering around a gay-to-straight conversion camp in Mississippi and a man's reckoning with the trauma he faced there as a teen.

Camp Levi, nestled in the Mississippi countryside, is designed to “cure” young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard, a midwestern graduate student, spent a summer at the camp as a teenager, and has since tried to erase the experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper.

As past and present are woven together, Will recounts his “rehabilitation,” eventually returning to the abandoned campgrounds to solve the mysteries of that pivotal summer, and to reclaim his story from those who have stolen it. With a masterful confluence of sensibility and place, How to Survive a Summer is a searing, unforgettable novel that introduces an exciting new literary voice.

Fans of S-Town will appreciate White's complex, nuanced portrait of life in the Mississippi Delta. 

“Clear and moving, revealing White’s talent in evoking the complexities of the rural South.”
Publishers Weekly


Advance Galley Reviews

This one started so well. I was thrilled to be pulled into Will's story and to find out more about what happened as he solved the mystery. Unfortunately, as I kept turning pages, I just started losing interest. Will is not a likable protagonist (not always a requirement, but at some point I just didn't care as much as I wanted to). There were a few highlights, and an excellent premise, just not overall a standout.

This was an interesting book that kept me guessing, but ultimately seemed a little too pat overall. The inclusion of Every Possible Permutation of Queer Character! was admirable but a bit much, and so was the ending. I did like the writing, and the depiction of hot Southern summer atmosphere, as well as the family and urban-legend backstories that informed main character Will's view of the world both before and after that fateful summer. The end may have been a little pat, but Will -- and all the real-life people who have been put through anything even remotely similar -- certainly deserves some happiness.

Full of disturbing laughable moments if you are in to that sort of thing, which I am. I had high hopes for this book to be funny and touching, but it sort of never went all the way in either direction. It starts off well, but then sort of falls flat. I was left bored and distracted.

Will "Rooster" Dillard was one of several teenage boys at a camp to "cure" their homosexuality, tortured until one of them ended up dead. The survivors, years later, have tried to put the experience behind them, made difficult by one of the camp counselors writing a book. And then a movie is made from the book, controversial and one everyone is talking about. The past entwines with the present, and the different viewpoints of the people who were there--two of them have gotten their chance to tell the story, and now it's finally Will's turn. As you might expect, this a bit of a sad story at its core. Will, especially, wanted to be "cured" to please his preacher father, and the struggles of his youth are pretty painful. But his present is a different story, when he's found some acceptance of himself, and finally facing his past helps him move past his issues and find happiness in his future. That hope carries you along through the worst of it, though it's still a bit ambiguous in regards to the movie. The purpose behind it, after all the talking, seems to be more plot related than having anything deeper. Will finds meaning in it, and so do some of the other characters, and I suppose that's good enough.

I had such high hopes for this book. Part Southern coming-of-age novel, part reckoning with your past memoir, I'm not sure this book does either one exactly right. I find myself wishing for more of the protaganist's teenaged years and the people that populate it. As difficult as the emotions he must process are, I wish that he'd been less muddy in both action and thought. He feels almost...unfinished as a character.

How to Survive a Summer by Nick White is an emotional novel that goes back and forth between the childhood and adult life of Will Dillard. As Will is trying to finish up grad school, a slasher horror film comes to theaters about a conversion camp that's loosely based on what happened to Will as a teenager. The film pushes Will to recount what happened while he was at the conversion camp and the life that was lost there. He travels back home to Mississippi to come to terms with this part of his life and the people involved. I enjoyed this book but was not completely absorbed into it like I wanted to be. The characters were all well-developed but I felt the storyline had some inconsistencies and would go off to many different tangents at times. Overall a decent story and would recommend to some.

This wasn't a bad book, but I didn't love it either. I think with a bit more editing this book had great potential, but in the end it just fell short for me. I saw hints of great character development and plot, but then the storyline would fall flat, and I would feel as if I didn't connect with the characters at all. I'll give Nick White another try in the future, but I will hope for a bit more when I read him!

Film Grad student, Will Dillard is forced to confront his past experience at a gay "conversion " camp when a slasher movie based on the the camp is released. He takes a journey, both physically and emotionally, back to his home in Mississippi and to the land where the camp stood. Nick White does a good job of moving between present and past time as we travel with Will. The portions of the story recalling the camp experiences are told through the eyes of the child that he was. In the present day, White tells Will's story from the perspective of this man-child that he has become. He has never been able to maintain relationships and withdrawals when he feels that someone is becoming too important to him. Mysteries are uncovered and pieces of puzzles found as he moves through his sentence of facing what happened at the camp and how another camp member died. Nick White's writing draws the reader in to feel the angst and the confusion that Will experiences. I found this to be well written debut and I look forward to more work from this author.

This feels to me like a semi-autobiographical first novel where the author maybe needed some more emotional distance from the subject matter before he decided to write about it. White does a good job of capturing the feeling of a time and place, but the story and character development felt undercooked to me. Turning real life events into a novel using a first-person narrator who's basically a stand-in for the author is such a go-to for young writers but is so hard to get right. This is a good start but I'd like to see what White can do with different subject matter.

5 boys go to summer camp to supposedly be converted from homosexuality. 4 boys go home. Will had wanted the camp to be successful. He wanted to like girls and make his dad proud of him. That isn't what happened. Years later, a book is written about the camp. Then, a horror movie is made supposedly based on the book, but not really. This brings back all of Will's repressed feelings about what had gone on that summer. This book isn't about how to survive the camp itself, but how to survive the aftermath, about Will coming to terms with the fact that he is gay, that being gay is okay, and finally dealing with what happened at the camp. The story bounces back and forth between the present and the past, letting the reader see not only the trauma Will went through as a young man but how it continues to impact him. The book is well written and very emotionally raw.

It took me a while to get into this book. The main character, Will, spends most of the book confronting the traumatic experience he had at the camp, so it made sense that his character was a bit erratic. Nonetheless, he wasn't a very likable character to me. Another problem I had with this book was the pacing. You don't truly find out what happened at the camp until much later in the book. I think the author could have done a better job of leading up to this and giving us more hints here and there. By the time we learned everything that happened at the camp, it was a little anticlimactic for me. Overall, this was an interesting premise, but there were few characters I liked and most of the book focused on Will's nonsensical meandering.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is incredibly interesting subject matter; I've previously only seen gay conversion camps presented in film and television, never in fiction. There are some incredibly interesting characters, such as Will's mom and her sister, Zeus, and Will's father. On the other hand, I really wasn't a fan of Will. I just couldn't relate to him at all. The biggest issue though is how much the story jumps around. The whole time I was reading, I just wanted to get to the camp. He hints at what happened there, but by the time we finally reached that scene, I didn't care anymore. I'm not sure if there would be a better way to present it, but I just wasn't enthralled by how it was executed. A good effort for a first novel though, and I'd kill for a sequel focusing on Zeus and his story.

This is an immersive book that demanded full attention. This is a book that talks about talks about homosexuality, growing up and reflections on the past. I thought it was well written with a voice that did a great job illustrating place and situation. I fear we need books like this because sometimes it is quite easy to overlook the sufferings of others and the pain we inflict, sometimes with good intentions. It is nice to experience the south through the pages of a book because you don't have to deal with the bugs or the humidity. ;-)

I felt that this was a really emotionally driven story and it was a really great read. I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know the details of what had happened at the camp as well as how Will's future would turn out. It was well written, but I felt like the author got distracted in telling Will's mother's stories. He always went back to the main story, but I didn't feel like the side stories connected as well as they could have. Overall, it was a great read. Would definitely recommend it.

I really liked the story. it was powerful and insightul. Characters that I thought I wasn't going to like ended up surprising me. I just didn't like how much the book dropped to different parts of the timeline. I don't mind when a book switches from past to present thoughout, but I don't like when the past is not told chronologically. It was difficult to follow the past events. But overall I liked this book.

I wasn't sure how to take this book at first. When I selected this ARC from First to Read, I mistakenly thought this was satire..... It's not. The fact that a slasher horror flick was being made on the site where a gay conversion camp once stood, and that a murder had taken place there, just seemed so unbelievable to me. I gave this book three stars. It was a surprisingly candid story although a bit dry at times. I absolutely loved the the last line of the book.

This is a powerful novel that reads like a memoir. The central character is living a solitary, half life while trying desperately to forget his teenage experience at a gay "conversion therapy" camp. Raised by a preacher father Will was ashamed of his burgeoning homosexuality and wanted to be "cured". That this doesn't happen leaves him still carrying the burden of his experience, filled with conflicting beliefs, still carrying his shame, and unable to form lasting relationships at any level. The novels switches between the present and the past allowing the reader to see the effect of Will's upbringing on his adult life. After a film loosely based on the conversion therapy camp experience is released Will embarks on a physical and emotional journey to try to reconcile his life. Some of the passages are hard to read, specifically the recounting of the camp experience but they're integral to the story. The characters are realistic and the writing made me truly care about their lives, particularly Will's. I look forward to more of Nick White's work.

This book was definitely not what I expected. It was very well written, and I had a hard time putting it down. It kept jumping back and forth between present day and past events, and I wanted to find out what had happened. It took a little bit longer than I wanted in order to do that, and some scenes would have had more impact had the reveal been earlier. I hope that camps like that are no longer in existence. It really makes you sad that so many boys and girls were put through awful experiences in the name of "curing" homosexuality.

I wasn't sure how to take this book at first. When I selected this ARC from first to read, I mistakenly thought this was satire..... It's not. The fact that a slasher horror flick was being made on the site where a gay conversion camp once stood, and that a murder had taken place there, just seemed so unbelievable to me. I gave this book three stars. It was a surprisingly candid story although a bit dry at times. I absolutely loved the the last line of the book.

When Will Dillard, aka Rooster, was in his teens, his father sent him to Camp Levi, a conversion therapy camp in the Neck, an isolated area in central Mississippi. Therapy is a misnomer for what actually happens to the young men placed by their parents in the hands of Father Drake and Mother Maude, the camp’s leaders. After a tragedy occurs, the camp disbands and the campers go their separate ways. Will, now a graduate student, believes himself to have moved on from that summer. But then a horror movie, “Proud Flesh,” based very loosely on that summer’s events is released and inserts itself into his life. Will begins a road trip, both mentally and physically, back into his past as he returns to the place where it all began. How to Survive a Summer has a lot of potential and the topic it tackles, gay conversion therapy camps, is certainly weighty and worthwhile, but I never felt it achieved the depth it deserves nor did the characters become much more than caricatures. It was a good try, but I was disappointed.

This is an incredible book. It's brilliant and heartbreaking, all the worse because the Summer described isn't so far away from what actually happens in gay conversion camps. Although this is a work of fiction, it reads like a memoir, which lends it additional gravity. It's important that this story be told, because people don't necessarily understand that places like this camp exist, and that the damage they do is long-reaching and permanent. I thought the book was brilliant. 5 stars.

“How to Survive a Summer” is full of duality. That tackling the past is just as important as facing today. It is both a physical and emotional journey that is best savored. In the end, it is both a bout redemption and survival. It is what Garth Greenwell calls "queer Southern Gothic."

It think that this was a promising debut novel, but it seemed very disjointed in structure. The book ends with what happened at the camp and it was hard to be horrified throughout the book without knowing what happened. It is terrible that there are places like this and that the author shared the story.

The first thing you will notice about Nick White's How To Survive A Summer is just how damn well it is written. If you weren't sure, you'd think it was pure memoir, as such detailed events are written with expert clarity. Where some novels can be frustrating flipping from past to present, White does it with ease. The subject matter can be painful at times, but that is what makes the book so interesting and engaging. This debut holds nothing but promise.

This is a promising debut novel, and the first chapters go a long way toward fulfilling that promise. I forgave the narrator some inconsistent and unlikable choices in the middle section, because surely they would be explained by the heavily-foreshadowed climax. However, as that central incident, which takes place at a gay cure conversion camp when the narrator was a teenager, was slowly revealed, the book's credibility fell apart for me. Perhaps it's because I'm not close enough to the brand of southern Christian fundamentalism portrayed (that is, not close at all), but the buffoonish villainy of Mother Maude and Father Drake, who run the camp at the heart of the book, make the climactic decisions of the narrator puzzling at best, ridiculous at worst. The year is 1999. Ellen had come out on national television; "Will and Grace" was on the air. Sure, gay kids, particularly gay kids from religious families, were still often guilt-ridden, as they still often are. But the teenagers in this novel seem to be living in a kind of time warp version of the dawn of the 21st Century, unaware of any aspects of popular culture. I appreciated the last chapter, which wraps things up in the present and left me with characters I cared about, wishing they'd found themselves in a plot I could more fully invest in.

This was a difficult book to read, but it's an important look at gay conversion programs, the people who run them (and who often don't understand the nature of sexual orientation), and the kids who survive. Very little of the narrative actually takes place at Camp Levi, though the scars of those weeks run deep. Will is a trauma survivor, and until he faces all that that means, it impacts all areas to life. The ending, while seemingly rushed after all the buildup, was satisfying, and this book will undoubtedly stick with me for a long time. A must read for LGBT folks and the people who love them.

 


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