Sunday, October 9, 2016

Camping Stories from Hell (also known as A Review of My Friend Natalie's Book)

It must be said that I have a love/hate relationship with camping.

Okay, mostly hate. When I was a kid, my family went camping. A lot. The summer I turned six, we lived in a tent at a campground. On sunny days my younger brothers and I went swimming in the lake and played on the playground. I think?

Mostly, I remember the never-ending, boring rainy days, sitting at the picnic table under a tarp, coloring in damp coloring books. The nights in the tent, my sleeping bag bunched up and slipping off the inflatable raft I used as a mattress.

Skunks. The constant terror of tics. Flies dive bombing my Kool-Aid, their drowned bodies drifting around on the orange surface. The middle of the night stumbling up the road to the bathroom.

After my father died, my mother joined a single parent support group and the fun family activity was spending weekends at campgrounds. And then, after she married again, my stepfather bought a pop-up trailer, and later, a much nicer camper with all of the bells and whistles—stove and sink and TV and even a bathroom, which seemed like a real upgrade from the middle of the night stumbling. But for whatever weirdo reason, we were never allowed to use the bathroom, so. Yeah.  Fun times in the middle of the night.

Now I am trying to remember where the love part comes into it. Oh, um, I liked the campfires. Also, the roasting of hotdogs and marshmallows. Boat rides and floating on my raft mattress on the lake. The loveliness of the woods.

My point, and I do have one, is that while I’ve never gone camping as an adult, I do like hiking, and the allure of being in the woods was slowly coming back to me…

until I read my best friend Natalie D. Richards' book, ONE WAS LOST.

This book, which I have read four times (as Natalie’s critique partner), has viscerally reminded me of every damp day of my tent-living youth, the droney buzz of mosquitos, the peeling off of wet socks, the dripping moldy-smelling tent canvas, the fear of stumbling through the dark woods to find the bathroom…

And yet-- yet-- YET--  I couldn’t put the book down ALL FOUR TIMES that I read it.

So here’s the premise: a group of teens with lots of angsty baggage reluctantly sign up for a camping trip as a type of school-bonding-trip activity. A couple of nights in and it’s already turned horror show. Non-stop rain and the bickering stress that comes from hanging around people you don’t want to hang around with. And then a bridge washes out, and four students are separated from the main group. With no food. Wet, reeking tents. A teacher who seems cool but who knows.

The next morning they wake to find that it’s much later than it should be, their backpacks and phones have been destroyed, their teacher has been drugged... THEY’VE been drugged. And as they crawl out of their drippy tents groggily, they find that they’ve each been marked. 

Words written in sharpies on their arms:




And on our bristly heroine’s arm: DARLING

The next 300 pages are non-stop Whodunnit/what the heck happened/how do we get the hell out of the woods. Because this is a Natalie D. Richards' book there's also a bit of romance and a thought-provoking exploration of teen stereotypes and identity.

It’s Blair Witch Project meets the Breakfast Club, a breathless page turner with a super-charged warning:

Do Not Read at Night and for God’s sake, DO NOT READ IT ON A CAMPING TRIP!

Fun fact: Nat will be signing the book (and all her books) at Cover to Cover Bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, this Thursday, October 13 from 6:00-8:00. Come meet her!

For more on Nat and her books, see:


  1. I pretty much hate camping, but I love suspenseful stories, and this sounds AMAZING! Congrats to Natalie on the new novel.