3 out of 4 stars
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I was a Boy Scout for most of my youth, and that experience taught me to hate camping. The bugs are terrible, dirt doesn't make a good bed no matter how thick your sleeping bag is, and it's always either too hot or too cold. Although I would never do it again, the magic of spending several days in nature with nothing but a cheap tent for protection is an experience I never want to forget.
With that said, I can fully endorse Welcome to Shadow Creek: April 1961 by Don Williams as the best way to go camping. Despite this being a fictional story, I could really feel the dirt under my feet as the boys walked, smell the campfire, taste the bologna sandwiches, and feel the exhaustion of a long day in my weary bones right along with the characters.
Welcome to Shadow Creek: April 1961 tells the story of Lib, a 15-year-old boy who's stuck going on a camping trip with his brother, a couple of his brother's friends, and his dad. Lib doesn't really fit in, though: he's a shy kid who has trouble spitting his words out when he gets nervous, and he'd be far happier reading than camping. But as the three-day trip goes on, Lib starts to let loose and enjoy himself. Better yet, as he bonds with and learns from his father, he starts gaining some self-confidence as well.
What stuck out to me the most about this book is just how descriptive Don is. Everything from the way breath smells to the wearing down of barbed-wire fences is given poetic descriptions. This is especially true of some of the magical things about camping, like Lib's first campfire. I was able to put myself in both Lib's and his dad's shoes, alternating between feeling Lib's nervousness and his father's pride at seeing Lib do something on his own for the first time. Lib's growth in the book is perfectly natural, and the way that Don blends Lib's imagination into the story is terrific. Lib talks to himself, animals, and even the trees from time to time, and he's quick to apply little stories to things he sees.
The way the teenagers are described is perfectly fitting too. All four boys genuinely seem like different people. Burl is the typical big brother, Foy (Burl's friend) is a bit of a braggadocious jerk, and Coy (Foy's twin brother) is far more laid back. The most ridiculous things happen while they horse around, trash talk, and challenge each other to various competitions.
Unfortunately, Welcome to Shadow Creek: April 1961 is a little too much like the camping trips I've been on. It goes on a bit too long, with nearly every moment detailed. Sporadically throughout the book, Lib picks up his book and reads about the adventures of Spud and Termite, which are written out for the reader as well. Don't get me wrong, it's a neat trick: we're removed from the camping trip in the same manner that Lib is. But if readers are going to be pulled away from the primary story, I would've preferred a better secondary story.
In addition to these negatives, I came across a dozen grammatical errors in the book. Despite that, I'd still consider it a well-edited book. The book is over 200 pages long, and the rest of the writing is exceptional. My rating of Welcome to Shadow Creek: April 1961 is 3 out of 4 stars. It felt like a slice of my childhood, and I'm rather stunned that a book could ever capture that feeling! I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA writing, camping, and/or stories about a teenager coming out of his shell and finding some self-confidence. There's no profanity or sex in the book whatsoever, making it safe for anyone to read.
Welcome to Shadow Creek
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