As part of a blog tour, I received Lee DuCote's Camp 80, a story about six senior citizens preparing to move into a retirement community, but before they do, their new place of residence has a road trip planned to help everyone get to know each other.
The Situation: Derrick St. Clair, the lead social worker at the Cedar Branch Retirement Community, is preparing to take the newest set of residents on a road trip. Karl and Betty, a grumpy husband and forgetful wife from Alabama; Gerald, a quiet but incredibly wise widower from Atlanta; Jack, a five-times divorced ladies man from Manhattan; and June and Violet, eccentric sisters from Arkansas, are all getting ready to move in and start the next phase of their lives. All are in fairly good health, all are in decent shape, and they are all over 80. Derrick, with the help of Katlyn Rose, or Kat, another social worker at Cedar Branch, and the 20-something Simon, is to drive these senior citizens through the southern states, stopping at various tourist attractions and hotels along the way. He knows he will have his hands full, but even so, he is not prepared for the adventures this trip has in store.
The Problem: Keeping up with six octogenarians is hard enough when you stay in one place. Trying to do so on a road trip, and keep them all from killing each other or bickering all of the time is a different matter entirely. Simon keeps having to load and reload the luggage in the van because of Violet's fixation on the vehicle being "balanced." Betty can barely keep Karl from grumbling in annoyance about everything, but mostly over Jack, who is always looking for a bar and friendly female smile. Gerald, who lost his wife nearly eight months ago, mostly sticks to himself and only speaks when asked a question, but somehow Jack has taken a liking to him anyway, making them a pair of unlikely friends. And all six of them cannot help but notice how nice of a couple Derrick and Kat would make. Every stop brings a new adventure, and thankfully an opportunity to visit a bathroom. But it may also bring a new opportunity for someone to get annoyed, or even possibly hurt or arrested.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that includes a different kind of road trip. There is a van, and two chaperones, but the campers are all above 80, which does not mean the trip will be any easier or any less exciting. All six of the senior citizens have their quirks and charms, but the most charming may be Jack, and the most quirky may be Violet, and they both get on Karl's last nerve, who is easily the most grumpy of the entire group. They make their way from what I assume to be Florida, all the way to the Gulf Coast in Texas, stopping at museums, restaurants, aquariums, and hotels along the way. Derrick and Kat, with the help of Simon, do their best to wrangle everyone, or at least just keep everyone alive. But although they may be above 80, that does not mean that keeping up with them is an easy task. And often, they are just as mischievous and crafty as any other group of campers.
My Verdict: This novel is incredibly cute, and funny, and sweet, and also a little sad. I like the originality of the idea of a group of 80 year-olds being taken on a road trip in place of the usual group orientation that comes with moving into a new community with people you do not know. Obviously, this is not going to be the usual type of road trip, at least not the kind we are used to reading or seeing movies about. The fear here is that there will be too many obvious jokes or references to the fact that these people are over 80. And sure, there is some of that, but it isn't so much that I felt like I was constantly being reminded that these people are senior citizens getting ready to move into a retirement community. And much like if I was stuck in that van with them on this trip, I felt like I got to know each of them and really started to like them, which makes the ending of a trip like this that much harder. There could have been more detail added to the descriptions of people and places, and overall I really did not get the point of Simon's character since it seems he does not add much to the story, but it is still a fun novel worth reading.
Favorite Moment: When the group decides to take revenge on a group of young men who regularly harass a young waitress at a restaurant.
Favorite Character: Gerald is the quiet widower who carries around a picture of the wife he misses, frame and all. Though he keeps to himself, he knows how to speak up at the right moments and is knowledgeable about the most unlikely subjects.
Recommended Reading: I recommend Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood. Although it is a collection of short stories, some of them can be linked together and involve older people and couples and their lives after retirement.