At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Mandy Berman’s evocative debut novel captures, through the lens of summer camp both the thrill and pain of growing up.
Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to treasure their summers together as campers at Camp Marigold. Now, reunited as counselors after their first year of college, their relationship is more complicated. Rebellious Rachel, a street-smart city kid raised by a single mother, has been losing patience with her best friend’s insecurities; Fiona, the middle child of a not-so-perfect suburban family, envies Rachel’s popularity with their campers and fellow counselors. For the first time, the two friends start keeping secrets from each other. Through them, as well as from the perspectives of their fellow counselors, their campers, and their mothers, we witness the tensions of the turbulent summer build to a tragic event, which forces Rachel and Fiona to confront their pasts—and the adults they’re becoming.
A seductive blast of nostalgia, a striking portrait of adolescent longing, and a tribute to female friendship, Perennials will speak to everyone who still remembers that bittersweet moment when innocence is lost forever.
Praise for Perennials
“Berman is at her most insightful when exploring the awkward unfurling of female adolescence. . . . Perennials is a sharp meditation on the changing female body, and the ways in which such changes are often involuntary and unwanted. . . . [She] skillfully captures the details and rituals of camp.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review
“Berman’s command of prose is astounding. The more you read, the more difficult it is to believe that this is a debut novel. . . . Charged with hope, longing, an unexpected sensuality, and a bruised tenderness, Perennials is a book you should most definitely put near the top of your reading list.”—Pop Dust
“Snappy and irresistible, Perennials takes readers back to summer camp, where her characters’ first friendships and treasons play out in sharp dialogue and playful, generous prose.”—Kristopher Jansma, author of Why We Came to the City
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
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Excerpted from "Perennials"
Copyright © 2017 Mandy Berman.
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Reading Group Guide
1. One of the earliest scenes in the novel recounts Rachel getting her first period, and a conversation she has with her mother that explores her newfound responsibilities as a woman. Why do you think this anecdote is told so near the start of the book?
2. In many ways, Rachel and Fiona are opposites. A thirteen-year-old Rachel describes Fiona as “a nosy but brutally loyal girl” (p. 5), while Rachel keeps her night with Matthew a secret from her friend. Rachel is raised by her single mother, in New York City, while Fiona is from a wealthy nuclear family in Westchester. What do you make of their attraction to each other, despite their differences? What bonds them?
3. After Mark and Denise’s argument about the police station incident, Denise begins to cry, and then remembers advice from her mother: “Don’t you ever cry in front of a man. They’ll take your weakness and build themselves up with it” (p. 38). But Denise then admits that “she’d broken that oath a long time ago.” How do you think Denise’s belief that a woman shouldn’t show a man her weaknesses may have informed her relationship with Mark? How might it have informed the way she raised Rachel and what she has taught Rachel about relationships with men?
4. Marla is different from the rest of Helen’s friends, both in upbringing and personality. Helen reflects that this might be because Marla has had a less insular upbringing than Helen’s childhood friends: “Being sheltered from the bad things didn’t really bring you any more joy. It just made you dull” (p. 56). Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
5. Fiona is described as “uneasy all the time, squirming within herself” (p. 77). She is plagued with a sort of dissociation from her body, feeling like it does not belong to her. How does she compare her body to Rachel’s, Helen’s, and those of the other women in the book? Are her comparisons of herself to them purely physical, or is there something else she feels they have that she lacks?
6. After Sheera and Mikey get in trouble, she decides to tell Chad the truth about their going to the island. Why do you think she does this? Do you believe she made the right decision, considering Chad’s strong reaction?
7. After Helen finds Rachel and Yonatan in the shed, Rachel begs Helen not to tell her sister about it. Helen keeps her word. Do you think Helen should have told Fiona about finding Rachel and Yonatan in the shed? Why or why not?
8. On Visitors’ Day, Amy goes back for John’s phone to “check the thing that she never checked” (p. 155). Why do you think it was on this day, of all days, that she decided to confirm her suspicions about John’s cheating on her?
9. Mo is a virgin, though after Sheera falls off the horse and Micah is sentenced to death, Mo finally gains the courage to come on to Nell. What about the catastrophes of that day do you believe gives Mo this courage? Does being away from home have anything to do with it?
10. Nell thinks of herself as a “champion for confused girls” (p. 197). What does she mean by this? How does her relationship with Mo parallel the one Nell has with Sasha?
11. Jack resists Rachel’s advances twice, and then finally gives in to her on the third try. How do you explain Jack’s inner conflict in regard to sleeping with Rachel? What about his behavior later, during the scene in the woods? Why does he fire both Rachel and Chad?
12. Fiona is embarrassed to hear about Rachel’s firing secondhand. That night, she cries when her camper Billie sings “Eleanor Rigby” at bedtime, and later, Fiona wakes Billie up to have her sing it again. What do Fiona’s actions, and the song itself, say about her emotional state in that moment?
13. When Helen and Sarah sneak out and ride horses through the woods, Sarah confides in Helen that she and Danny Sheppard slept together. Afterward, “Helen couldn’t explain why, but she felt uneasy now about Danny, about the way he had told Sarah to keep things between them a secret” (p. 245). What is the significance of Sarah’s confession to Helen, especially in the context of this particular night?
14. The hospital chapter is told through the perspectives of Nell and Mo. Why might the author have decided to narrate this monumental scene from an outsider’s point of view?
15. Were you surprised by the book’s ending? Why or why not? What does each character take away from the final events of the book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You know that nostalgic feeling you get when looking at an old Polaroid photo? That’s how I felt while reading this book. Youth captured in a snapshot. As kids, Rachel and Fiona spent many wonderful summers at Camp Marigold. Eight glorious weeks of swimming, riding horses and making new friends. Things at home could change, but once they returned to camp, everything fell back into place and all was good with the world. In Perennials, Rachel and Fiona return to camp as counselors and with them is Fiona’s younger sister, Helen who is about to experience camp as they once did many years ago. Summer camp. Sigh. When I was a kid, I read a lot of books about summer camp and they really had me longing for that experience. It wasn’t until last summer that I actually attended camp (as a leader) and although I wasn’t there as a camper, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. In this novel, Berman beautifully captures all the angst and anxiety of pre-teens but she somehow manages to capture the doubts and worries of the young adult counselors as well. This book is summer, but it’s also life and love and friendship and all the not-so-pleasant stuff that comes with it. There’s a little more “action” between the campers and counselors than I would have liked to see. I am not a prude but since I work with teens and have teens of my own, I was a little sensitive to some parts of the story but at the same time I am far from naive. That said, anyone who is sensitive to language or sexual content may want to think twice before handing the book over to your teen. It’s not marketed as YA but from the cover you might think so. In the end, I thought it was pretty well done. The final pages were especially poignant and frankly had me all choked-up. Perennials is Berman’s first novel and I look forward to what she writes next.
3.5 stars They spent their whole summers at Camp Marigold, their whole summers! I can’t imagine this freedom, this opportunity to spend my childhood years with my summer friends without any parents around. It was usually the same set of kids and they’d pick right up where they left off last summer as if no time had separated them. They ‘d take time just to notice the physical differences that had occurred while they were apart, knowing that later they would take the time to talk about anything deep that needed to be exchanged. They had truly formed great friendships. With a whole summer ahead of them, counselors leading the way, the rules were stated but as the campers got older, the rules often got broken. Inside this novel, we follow Rachel and Fiona, these two girls fill out each other’s voids. Rachel was the risk taker, the outgoing one, the one who seemed to be out there. Fiona, she’s the one who lies in the shadows, she is the girl who individuals can count on for she seemed to have what others want. Meeting at Camp Marigold, we read about how their relationship grows and changes as each year passes. When they first arrived many years ago, they were campers and now many years later, they have assumed the roles as counselors and are now guiding and instructing other female campers. On the outside, Rachel and Fiona looked responsible to the young campers but I had to wonder myself, if Rachel and Fiona were mature enough for these young campers and could handle this responsibility? It was the freedom of the camp and the individualism of each of these young women that had me questioning their role. Their actions and behaviors were questionable at times. Only time would tell, if this role fit them. I loved the carefree atmosphere of the camp, the friendships of the individuals attending and the friendships that were promised next year. It brought back memories of my own experiences of summer camp. The anticipation of tomorrow’s activities, the promises of next year, the bond of being with your friends for a whole week without your parents and the stories. I enjoyed being away at Camp Marigold, the time walking through the woods, swimming, the late talks, the relationships that were formed and built upon and all the drama. It was good to be away, to experience camp again and to be reminded again of what camp was all about. There was a frustrating part about halfway through this novel, when I found myself whisked off into other individual’s stories, stories of secondary characters who suddenly got center stage. I didn’t really understand the need for these stories but nevertheless, the novel finally got back on track. I can’t say I was pleased with the ending but thinking about the novel, I can see why it ended that way, but it was not what I expected. Thank you NetGalley and Random House for providing me a copy of the novel. This is my own opinion of this novel.
A novel about summer camp may sound amateurish or YA but Perennials is anything but. In Mandy Berman's terrific debut novel you are introduced to a wide variety of characters that have a little bit of each one of us in them. We meet Rachel, Fiona, Denise, Helen, Sheera, Mo, Nelly and we remember our own camp friends or nostalgia. For someone who never went to camp we understand a little more about Camp Dynamics and how we grow. While I was never a huge fan of camp reading this story helped me understand all of the things at play for campers and the counselor. For the campers we find a group who is discovering themselves, they are discovering sexuality, their bodies are changing and some are not in that change. The unknown is exciting and thrilling to these new teens or about to be teens. With the older counselors they too are discovering adulthood and what it means to be an adult. Making good choices or learning from mistakes. Mandy has a terrific way of making each scene not only believable but also human. She has taken a great deal of time to get to know her characters and make them real. A must read! I received this book from Netgalley and decided to write an honest review.