Racism Played Out In YA Novella

Tom is going to camp. It is 1974, ten years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he is almost (self-claimed) 16 years old; time to get on with life. (note: He is 14). Besides that, he has to live somewhere while his scientist parents are on a trip to Russia. At a restaurant/diner he is picked up by Davis, a counselor at the camp. The ride to the camp is in the dark, at night, in a pick-up truck, so we have the possibility of pedophilia. Occupants of a passing vehicle throw a beer at the truck while screaming the “n” word, so we have racism, as in “Color War.”

Color War                                             by Bruce McCandless

Mac MacKenzie, director of Camp Alex, divides camp attendees into two groups, the Creek and the Comanches. Competition between the two teams drives the stories throughout the novel. There is a love interest when Tom is hospitalized after being on the losing side in a boxing match. Alyssha is a character the reader will have fun figuring out. Early in the book, she seems to speak in non-sequiturs. Immediately after meeting Alyssha, there is this interesting line: “And that, really, is how the rest of the story started.” [p. 24]

Jack Connelly is Tom’s best friend. The Connelly name defines class in the area, not just at Camp Alex. The Connellys are the biggest landowners all around Camp Alex. Jack’s brother, Tom has a personality of broken potential, and he is not happy about it. His rebellion will lead to near criminal activity on more than one occasion. Jack may have had a puppy love crush of Alyssha, or vice-versa. This is what McCandless steers us to believe.

There is quite a bit of physical injury to all the campers as a result of exuberant roughhousing. Because campers and counselors are different ages, but all participate in the same activities, sometimes things seem to go a bit far.

Chapter fifteen, titled “Remembrance” relates anecdotes about camp participants from the view of Tom, who is now fifty years old. Things not clear at the time of their event in camp are explained. Life after camp is filled in as campers grew to be adults.

This is a great coming of age story about dealing with racism. McCandless uses vocabulary appropriate to the time as his characters play their roles. I will recommend my teen-age son read this novel.

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