Lauren, Isla, Jade, and Archer meet the first day of summer camp, and friendship magic is made in Firefly Cabin. If only they could immortalize their summer memories by winning the contest to be the face of the camp’s website. But it won’t be easy; not with rival cabins, distracting crushes, and of course, the girl’s own secrets getting in the way. Can friendship—and the Fireflies—triumph over all?
About the Author
Cynthia Ellingsen is the author of three novels for adults: The Lighthouse Keeper, The Whole Package, and Marriage Matters. She lives in Kentucky with her husband. The Girls of Firefly Cabin is her first novel for younger readers.
Read an Excerpt
Lauren clutched the brochure for the Blueberry Pine Camp for Girls close to her heart. The airplane landed with a whirring roar and taxied down the runway. She let out a breath and looked down at the cover of the camp advertisement.
Four girls stood in a row. They wore matching grins and the traditional camp uniform: green knee socks, navy button-down shirts, and green corduroy trousers that ended below the knee. The campers posed beneath lush pine trees, their eyes bright with friendship and shared secrets.
It was the perfect picture. Probably from the perfect summer, the type Lauren imagined other girls — rich girls with families — got to have. Lauren, on the other hand, typically spent her summers doing kitchen duty and changing diapers at Shady Acres, the group foster home where she lived.
When she'd won an essay contest to attend the Blueberry Pine Camp for Girls, she had felt like the luckiest girl alive. Going to camp was a dream come true. It was finally happening, and she couldn't wait to start the best summer of her life.
"Traverse City, Michigan," announced the flight attendant, and some of the passengers applauded.
Lauren wiped the sweat off her hands and tucked the brochure into the front pocket of her backpack. She couldn't contain the smile on her face as the flight attendant walked her through the airport to retrieve her luggage. Her thrift shop suitcase with the rip in the green fabric sat on the luggage carousel, waiting for her like a good friend.
Nearby, a man in a plaid golf cap held a sign that read WELCOME, LAUREN WILLIAMS! Lauren chewed her nails while the adults swapped paperwork.
"Have a wonderful time at camp, Lauren." The flight attendant handed her a water and a few packets of pretzels.
"Ready, kid?" The driver gave her a big smile. He put her frayed suitcase in the trunk of a black town car and held open the door, like she was somebody special.
Tall pine trees flashed by the windows as he pulled onto the road. Fluffy clouds dotted the bright blue sky like something out of a picture book. The vibrant colors were so different from the pastel landscape back in Arizona.
The driver glanced in the rearview mirror. "You go to camp every year?"
"No, sir." Lauren squeezed her hands. "This is my first time. I ... I won an essay contest."
Winning was such a shock. It had taken five weeks of writing and rewriting an essay explaining why she wanted to be a part of Blueberry Pine. She had been embarrassed in the end, convinced the judges would laugh and throw it away.
Three weeks later, she'd received a surprise letter in the mail. She'd read and reread it until the paper was smooth and worn.
Congratulations! "Searching for Sisterhood" was selected as the winning entry for the Beatrice Hunt Scholarship Award to the Blueberry Pine Camp for Girls. Please accept this letter as an invitation for your eight-week stay in Firefly Cabin. Once your acceptance is confirmed, we'll send a stipend for travel and clothing. Thank you for your heartfelt words, and congratulations again!
With a bright Blueberry Pine welcome,
Director of Outreach Services
"That's wonderful, kid," the driver said. "What a great opportunity."
"It is." Lauren gave a serious nod. "I live in a group foster home, so I was lucky to get permission to go."
He raised an eyebrow. "You an orphan?"
Lauren hated how people reacted when they found out she didn't have a family. It would be nice, for once, if no one knew.
In fact ...
Lauren sat up straight. The girls at camp wouldn't know unless she decided to tell them.
"Hey, do you drive a lot of the campers?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Only the special ones."
"Then can you do me a favor?" She leaned over the front seat. "I ... I really don't want any of the girls to know I live in a group home. I'd like to pretend to be someone else for a while."
The driver's eyes met hers in the rearview mirror. "Sure, kid. Your secret is safe with me."
He clicked the radio to an oldies station and hummed along. She pulled out the creased camp brochure and flipped through it like a favorite book. Finally, the car crested a hill, and a brilliant blue lake appeared below. The road leading down to it was lined with trees and — oh gosh! — the colorful flags pictured in the brochure:
A Bright Blueberry Pine Welcome
Sunshine: One Mile
Blueberry Pine Camp For Girls: Join the Fun
The car pulled into a long dirt driveway. A sign made of crisscrossed logs hung over the entrance. In wood-burnt letters, it read EST. 1948.
Lauren rolled down the window, and her red hair whipped in the wind. The drive down the dirt road smelled like pine needles, wet dirt, and something sweet — maybe fresh-cut grass or wildflowers. Her stomach jumped with excitement as the car approached a small, wooden building, where two older girls stood with clipboards.
The blond girl turned to greet a car on the opposite side, while a tall Asian girl greeted Lauren. She wore her long black hair in a sleek ponytail and had a mouth full of braces. In spite of the braces, she blew purple bubbles with a large piece of chewing gum.
"A bright Blueberry Pine welcome! I'm Cassandra." She shook Lauren's hand through the open window of the car. "What cabin are you in?"
"Firefly Cabin." Lauren beamed. "I'm a Firefly."
According to the camp website, which Lauren had studied with great care, Blueberry Pine campers ranged in age from ten to thirteen. There were two cabin clusters for each age bracket, with the exception of the ten-year-olds, who only had one, due to lower enrollment. The ten-year-olds lived in cabins named after fruit; the eleven-year-olds were insects; the twelve-year-olds were trees; and the oldest girls, birds.
"I've been excited to be a Firefly for weeks," Lauren admitted.
"That's great news, because I'm a Firefly, too," Cassandra said. "I'm your counselor."
Lauren's eyes widened. "It's so nice to meet you!" She couldn't believe she was talking to her cabin counselor. It felt like meeting a celebrity.
Cassandra pointed at the blond girl. "We all have different duties throughout the day. I'm on check-in duty now, but I'll be back to the cabin before the welcome ceremony and bonfire this afternoon." She studied a page of photographs on her clipboard. "You must be ... Lauren."
Cassandra gave her a fist bump. "Let me get you your welcome packet with all the information you need, including a map to the cabin." She stepped into the tiny building and returned with a folder packed with papers. "You're the first of the Fireflies to arrive, so make yourself at home. There are all sorts of activities planned throughout the day, like soccer games and a water balloon toss on the main lawn, so have fun and I'll see you soon."
Lauren's driver gave a friendly wave to the counselors and headed back up the hill to the main camp.
"This is incredible," Lauren breathed, leaning over the front seat.
It was as if the camp website had sprung to life. The main area had a bright green lawn dotted with picnic tables and benches, next to a small building with a sign that read CANTEEN. From her online research, Lauren knew it was a snack bar. Campers were already lined up for ice-cream cones, talking and laughing with friends. Nearby, wood-chip-covered pathways led toward clusters of log cabins. The lake — oh, it was so blue! — gleamed at the edge of it all, with pine trees reflected in its glass-like surface.
The driver pulled over and got out of the car to retrieve Lauren's suitcase from the trunk. Finally standing on camp ground, Lauren opened her worn change purse and held out the ten-dollar bill her housemother had given her for gratuities. The driver waved it away.
"Keep it, kid." He climbed back into the car. "Buy yourself a treat."
Lauren's mouth dropped open. "No, I ... I have to give you a tip."
The driver leaned out the window. "How about this for a tip: the world don't owe you any favors. So, when it does you one, smile and say 'thank you.'" He touched the brim of his cap. "Have fun at camp."
Lauren couldn't believe her luck. Ten whole dollars?!
I can buy ice cream!
Heck, with ten dollars she could buy ice cream for herself and her new friends. She waved at the driver, grinning from ear to ear, until he was out of sight.
Turning, she looked out across Blueberry Pine. It was just perfect. Birds chirped, bugs droned with the steady song of summer, and she blinked back ridiculous tears.
The driver is right. The world doesn't owe me any favors. Sometimes, though, it comes through.
With a smile, she whispered, "Thank you."
Without a doubt, summer at the Blueberry Pine Camp for Girls was going to be the most exciting adventure of her life.CHAPTER 2
Isla hid in a corner of the general store, careful not to touch a thing. Her parents had insisted on stopping for handcrafted ice cream on the way to camp, which sounded good at the time. That is, until they'd picked this dump, where Isla spotted a sign that read LIVE BAIT ... and noticed buckets of scaly black worms in the fridge.
Just like the idea of going to camp.
Isla wanted to spend summer like she always did: visiting the Met, running her Internet business, and working through the top one hundred American Library Classics. But this year her parents had planned a trip to Europe. Instead of allowing her to spend the summer with her grandparents like her older brothers (lucky brothers with their summer rugby team), her parents had decided to ship her off to camp, claiming it would be good for her college applications.
The Ivy Leagues were six years away. Isla wanted a quality education, but please. Camp sounded as disgusting as this store.
Mosquitoes? Bunk beds? Latrines?
Plus, the past few weeks had been a torment of secret worries: What would the girls in her cabin be like? What if her inhaler didn't work? Would she be okay with her parents approximately 4,150 miles away?
The situation was stressful beyond words.
"Isla!" Her mother's voice trilled through the store. Too loud, like always. Her parents were hotshot corporate lawyers in Manhattan and (mistakenly) thought everyone wanted to hear what they had to say.
Isla ducked her head and rushed down the aisle. Turning a corner, she smacked into someone. "Sorry." She put out a hand to steady herself. "I ..."
The words died on her lips. Her hand rested on the chest of the most beautiful boy she'd ever seen. He had dark, curly hair and laughing brown eyes, and he smelled like grape Jolly Ranchers.
Isla dropped her hand, too stunned to speak.
The boy grinned. "Nice outfit."
He, too, wore a camp uniform, which meant he was attending the boys' camp across the lake. Her heart started to pound.
"I'm Jordan." When she didn't respond, he added, "You know, we could be twins, dressed like this. Maybe we could share clothes."
Just then, her mother swept around the corner and thrust a chocolate shake into her hands. "Try this," she proclaimed. "It's extraordinary."
Quickly, Isla turned away from Jordan. She wasn't allowed to even think about boys until she was fifteen, which meant four more years to go. Her mother would ground her for life if she knew the thoughts running through her head. Things like I wonder if I'll see him at camp? or What would it be like to kiss him?
The idea sent her into such a panic that she didn't get a good grip on the cup. The lid popped off, and chocolate doused the front of her shirt. The boy burst out laughing.
Mortified, Isla chose the only logical option: she darted for the door, down the wooden steps, and straight to her parents' car. Her mother hurried behind her.
"Young lady, stop right there!" The locks on the Cadillac beeped shut. "You are not getting in my rental car like that."
Isla stood shivering as her mother extracted a starched button-down shirt from the Louis Vuitton luggage in the trunk.
"They'll have a bathroom in the store." Her mother handed it to her. "Go change."
In the bathroom? In that gross store?
"Mommy, no," Isla pleaded. "Let me just —"
How embarrassing. Of course the cute boy chose that very moment to open the screened door.
And her mother chose that very moment to shout, "YOU'LL NEED ANOTHER BRA!" Like something out of a nightmare, she pulled a lacy white training bra out of Isla's luggage and waved it like a flag.
The boy's hand froze on the doorframe.
Isla's mother sailed over and shoved it into her hands. "That young man is holding the door," she scolded. "Don't make him stand there all day."
Isla scuttled up the steps, heart pounding. She couldn't help but glance his way. His dark eyes locked onto hers.
"I take back what I said about trading clothes," he murmured.
Her cheeks flushed bright red. She ducked past him, wishing she didn't have to change. There was a real chance that the moment she took off the icy shirt, her body would burst into flames.CHAPTER 3
Archer sat cross-legged on a bed of grass and pine needles in the center of camp and picked at the black polish on her thumbnail. A steady pulse of insects chirped in the background, and the air smelled like moldy bread.
Plucking a piece of sweet clover from the ground, Archer stuck it into her mouth and looked up at her sister. Makayla was perched on the edge of a bench. Her blue eyes shined with tears as she acted like it might just kill her to say goodbye to their parents.
Makayla wouldn't even call their parents until she needed money for snacks.
There was a burst of laughter from a nearby table, and Archer looked over. Four girls sat together sharing three different flavors of ice cream.
Oh, wow. For a moment, camp seemed promising. It would be fun to have friends like that. Then reality set in.
Everyone will hate you, like always. Thanks to her.
Makayla was on her fourth and final year of camp. That meant she knew everyone and most likely had a tribe of minions eager to do her bidding. Humiliating Archer would be at the top of their list. Really, it wouldn't be that hard, because Archer was completely new to all of this.
Band practice had kept Archer safe from camp last year. But she had quit the band without weighing the consequences. Now, here she was, about to be a sitting duck for her sister.
Archer's mother got to her feet. "Honey, can we get a hug?"
The invitation made her practically fall into her mother's arms. It wasn't like she was a wimp or anything, but she wanted to go home. The idea of being with strangers for eight whole weeks — and at the mercy of her sister — was terrifying.
"Hang in there, okay?" Her mother brushed her fingers over the blue and purple streaks in Archer's hair. "Eight weeks isn't forever."
"Tell that to someone being eaten slowly by a boa constrictor," Archer said.
It was something she wouldn't mind seeing happen to her sister.
Her father chuckled. "Have fun, kiddo." He gave an awkward punch to her arm, and her parents headed for the parking lot.
Immediately, Makayla iced her with a look.
"Okay, loser. Here are the rules," she snapped. "Do not speak to me unless I speak to you, and do not tell a soul we are related. Got it?"
The rules were the same at school. By now, Archer was used to it, but she'd half hoped camp would be different. Clearly that wasn't the case.
"I'd rather eat bugs than tell people we're sisters," Archer shot back. "Because people would assume I'm as fake as you."
"Mmm." Makayla's catlike eyes appraised her. "Your hair looks hideous. Do yourself a favor and set it on fire." She waggled her fingers. "Have a great summer."
Rage welled up inside of Archer. Before she could fire off an appropriate comeback, a gaggle of pretty girls raced onto the green lawn. The cool kids, no doubt. They tackled Makayla in a group hug, screaming with delight.
"Bluebirds!" Makayla cried, which was the name of her stupid cabin.
The girls jumped up and down. "We're finally Bluebirds!" they squealed, flapping their arms as if they were wings. The display should have been embarrassing, but they made it look like the most fun thing ever.
"Uh, hello." Suddenly, a blond with mirrored aviators noticed Archer. "Are you friends with Makayla?"
Makayla scoffed. "Blue Hair started following me around the moment I got here."
Great. Now everyone would think she was a total freak.
Archer rushed toward one of the wooden pathways, but not before her sister got in one more jab.
"She looks like a My Little Pony," Makayla trilled. "The zombie version."
The Bluebirds chirped with laughter, and shame crushed Archer's heart.
Safe in the cool darkness of the forest, she stopped and looked up at the trees.
Am I really that awful? Why does my own sister hate me so much?
Their relationship hadn't always been bad. For most of their lives, they were happy to ride bikes and play Barbies and video games together. Everything changed when they moved to the suburbs of Chicago, and Makayla started junior high.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Girls of Firefly Cabin"
Copyright © 2019 Cynthia Ellingsen.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
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