This week in our Summer Reading Series Blair’s president Carolyn Sakowski talks about the book that took her back to her summer camp days.
In January 2012, the buzz in the book industry was about a first novel auctioned for a rumored seven-figure deal. Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani had to be about my beloved Camp Yonahlossee in the mountains of North Carolina, where my sister and I, as well as our mother before us, had gone. From 1961 to 1964, I spent most of each summer there.
When Publishers Weekly announced Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls as one of the “most anticipated books of Spring 2013,” I knew it was going to be on my summer reading list. The book’s jacket copy says, “It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy . . . Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes.” I loved that “Southern debutantes” part.
DiSclafani keeps readers wondering exactly what Thea has done to deserve her exile. Since Thea has been raised on an orange-grove plantation without knowing any girls her age, her discovery of female friendship is one of the book’s strongest themes.
However, I suspect other Yonahlosee alums will be as slightly disappointed as I was. I know DiSclafani has gone to great lengths in media interviews and personal appearances to say the camp in her book is nothing like the real Yonahlosee (which closed in the 1980s), but I still yearned for a book that would capture the magic of the close relationships we developed during those summers together.
Susan Kelly’s article “Camp Days” in the June issue of Our State magazine actually fulfilled more of my need for a dose of nostalgia. You can tell Susan really went to Camp Yonahlossee.
There really was horseback riding at Yonahlossee, and I did partake, but it wasn’t the core of my camp experience. Whereas Susan Kelly gravitated to the crafts cabin, I was one of the girls who “swam endless laps in the pool’s frigid water in order to earn the privilege of Going to the Lake for four days and nights to ski and motorboat.” I also got to be a pretty darn good shot with a rifle—and a bow and arrow, long before high-tech bows and Katniss Everdeen came on the scene.
I must admit that, after that extra glass of wine, I can also throw back my head, “lift my arms to the heavens and intone in an eerie sing-song, Wa ah ta ho, maui ta la no.” Having been chief of the Tuscaroras, I, too, know the secrets of the echo and the bonfire—and I know all the words to “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Check back next week for another installment of Blair’s Summer Reading Series.