Set in rural Appalachia, at a summer camp for girls, SHELTER is the story of four girls, a boy, and a man who kill a violent criminal in self-defense. They hide the man’s body in a cave and agree never to tell their secret. These events are narrated in alternating chapters by Lenny, a fifteen-year-old senior in the Girl Guides; her sister, Alma, a junior in the Girl Guides; Buddy, the camp cook’s son; and Parson, an escaped convict and religious fanatic.
The title SHELTER suggests the theme of the novel. All of the children are the victims of physical and psychological abuse. To escape their dysfunctional families and haunting memories, they have created shelters for themselves, retreating into their dreams or the intimacy of close friendships in an attempt to escape reality. The camp itself, where much of the action takes place, offers the children a temporary refuge from their unfortunate home lives and the predatory dangers of the surrounding forest, into which they venture each night.
Except for the epilogue, which is dated four months later, the entire story takes place in late July of 1963, at the height of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union. Americans were busy building bomb shelters to protect themselves from nuclear war in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis. Camp Shelter is a microcosm of America at this time, gripped by paranoia. As one of the characters states, “The forest is all around us and we’re like a country inside it.”
Although it is not a great work, mainly because of the heavy-handed use of symbolism and the plethora of victims, SHELTER succeeds as art. The descriptions, rich in olfactory and auditory images, convey an impression of summer camp that lingers long after the novel is finished.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XC, June 1, 1994, p. 1725.
Chicago Tribune. September 25, 1994, XIV, p. 3.
Library Journal. CXIX, August, 1994, p. 133.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 4, 1994, p. 3.
The Nation. CCLIX, November 14, 1994, p. 585.
The New Republic. CCXI, December 26, 1994, p. 39.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, September 18, 1994, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, June 20, 1994, p. 93.
Time. CXLIV, September 19, 1994, p. 82.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, September 4, 1994, p. 5.