REVIEW: ‘Five in a Tent’ brings back summer memories

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The cover of "Five in a Tent." Image courtesy of esty.com/basketcasebooks

As my stress levels begian to rise this semester, I found myself missing summer. In Victoria Furman’s novel “Five in a Tent,” I discovered a comfortable reminiscence.

Published in 1966, Furman’s children’s novel tells the story of Christine Ann Walker, who goes by Chris, during her first summer camp at Camp Alpine in New Hampshire.

This book was loaned to me by Anne Phillips, professor of English, after I talked with her about my summer—this is why students should go to office hours.

This summer I worked at Camp Kawanhee, an all-boys camp in rural Maine. I was the camp history museum curator as well as the holder of multiple odd jobs, and I loved every minute of it.

In the book, Chris’s camp is an all-girls camp, and though it’s set in New Hampshire in the middle of the 20th century, I found connections to my own camp experience and life lessons about relating to those around you.

Many of the experiences that Chris has were familiar to me, from the glossy pages of the camp catalog to the “spicy and woodsy” air of camp. These details were oddly comforting.

Furman’s depictions of camp are so vivid and sensory that Camp Alpine comes alive on the page, even if you’ve never worked at a summer camp in the Northeast.

Chris spends a lot of time at camp engaging in typical camp activities of swimming, athletics and her favorite activity, horseback riding.

However, the real focus isn’t on the activities Chris takes part in. Rather, Furman uses the camp background to focus on the relationships that Chris builds with those around her, including her tentmates and her older sister, Helen.

Chris becomes close with her tentmates very quickly. Though it may seem like Furman is exaggerating the speed at which those relationships are built, in the context of camp she isn’t.

At camp it feels like everyone’s barriers are a little lower since you know you will be living with each other for several weeks at a time (in my case, as many as seven). Friendships are built quickly and strongly.

I think we could benefit from that mindset at school as well. Lower the walls that you’ve built for yourself and try and connect more with the people around you in class.

On the other hand, Chris’s relationship with her sister, Helen, is filled with a lot of tension.

Both girls are jealous of each other: Chris of Helen’s athletic ability, and Helen of Chris’s popularity at camp. This leads to disdain mainly from Helen toward Chris.

This only starts to change as Chris matures over the course of her summer at camp and starts to understand her sister’s attitude. Of course, Helen also has to come around and stop seeing Chris solely as her annoying little sister.

I’m a middle child, so I have an older sister and I am an older sister, and I really appreciate the portrayal of sibling tension. I feel like this appears in a lot of children’s fiction, but Furman also wrote a realistic release of that tension which makes “Five in a Tent” stand out when compared to other children’s books.

This book, of course, isn’t without its faults.

Reading this book today, it is a bit dated. I enjoyed part of that because I could connect things in the novel to my work in the camp history museum this summer, such as wearing uniforms.

However, there is also a pageant held in the middle of the novel that appropriates Native American culture. I felt incredibly uncomfortable while reading that scene, even though it was a very brief.

While this is in no way should be acceptable, many summer camps continue to appropriate Native American cultures today. That’s both a fault of this novel and of the summer camp tradition in general.

Despite these faults, this book made me want to be back in Maine sitting at council point on a Saturday night chanting with a group of rowdy boys and waiting for the fire to be lit.

If you’ve been to summer camp or worked at summer camp, this may be a hidden gem for you. Even if you’ve got no connection to camp, this is still a really pleasant, quick read.

As for me, I’ll cheer for the Whites and Blues of Furman’s Camp Alpine alongside the Grays and Maroons of my own Camp Kawanhee.

Macy Davis is the assistant culture editor and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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I'm Macy Davis a former Collegian culture editor and a 2019 graduate in English. When I was not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I was also a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team.