Which of the following makes The Optimistic Decade worth reading?
a) “In the Colorado Desert, a Debut Novelist Finds a Metaphor for Israel and Palestine.”*
b) A novel set at an ‘80s summer camp is bound to be good.
c) Compelling prose that conveys the awkward absurdity and loneliness of the young adult years.
d) It’s fun to say “Llamalo.” Hebrew for “why not?”
e) All of the above.
The answer is e, all of the above. The answer is always all of the above. Heather Abel’s The Optimistic Decade is a memorable coming of age story set just before the Gulf War. David, lonesome and mediocre in his “real life,” comes out of his shell only at summer camp. Rebecca, his childhood friend, struggles with the fact the no one cares, not really, as her parents ship her off to be a counselor at some weird camp. And Caleb, the owner of the isolated summer camp, is both insecure and egocentric. Their lives converge during one hot summer spent in the mountains of Colorado.
I always love a good novel set in my home state and Abel does a fantastic job of describing the hot, dry Colorado summers. She also nails the intricacies of teenagers (at summer camp, and everywhere else), the need to be liked balanced with the desire to not give a fuck. Her prose is compelling, her characters can be both sympathetic and abrasive, and her depiction of the fraught inner monologue of young adults – trying to differentiate the person they are from the person they were raised to be – is awkward perfection. Overall, The Optimistic Decade is a wonderful debut novel. A must read is you love the ‘80s, summer camp, and the doomed confidence of youth.
*According to The New York Times review, found here.
**I received a review copy of this novel, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.