Welcome to a new feature on the Dunham Literary Blog! Jennie and Anjanette will be sharing our thoughts from the industry insider perspective on books we read. Our first read is CAMP ZERO by Michelle Min Sterling, published by Atria Books. Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management represented the book, not us, but it's important for all of us - authors, agents, and editors - to read widely and to support all those involved in making books. When we talk about books, we foster connections with each other and we understand each other better.
Blurb from the Publisher:
“In remote northern Canada, a team led by a visionary American architect is breaking ground on a building project called Camp Zero, intended to be the beginning of a new way of life. A clever and determined young woman code-named Rose is offered a chance to join the Blooms, a group hired to entertain the men in camp—but her real mission is to secretly monitor the mercurial architect in charge. In return, she’ll receive a home for her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother and herself.
Rose quickly secures the trust of her target, only to discover that everyone has a hidden agenda, and nothing is as it seems. Through skillfully braided perspectives, including those of a young professor longing to escape his wealthy family and an all-woman military research unit struggling for survival at a climate station, the fate of Camp Zero’s inhabitants reaches a stunning crescendo.
Atmospheric, fiercely original, and utterly gripping, Camp Zero is an electrifying page-turner and a masterful exploration of who and what will survive in a warming world, and how falling in love and building community can be the most daring acts of all.”
Why did we pick this book?
Jennie: I knew I wanted to read this book the first time I heard about it because the premise sounded great. It’s set in the not-too-distant future, which makes it feel like it’s on the edge of possible, yet the world described in the cover copy seems markedly different from ours today. I was also intrigued by the characters and how their lives would intersect, how their motivations would bring conflict.
I also chose this book in order to stay current with reading books that are popular. It became a bestseller instantly, so it’s striking a chord with many readers. As an agent, reading successful books is part of staying aware of the industry.
How did you feel about reading this book after Jennie chose it?
Anjanette: The Arctic setting certainly appealed to me as an Alaskan! I was also intrigued that this is set in the near-future, but still sounded dystopian. Those two things were enough to pique my curiosity, and I tend to gravitate toward upmarket and genre fiction. I love a fast-moving plot. Also, how about that gorgeous cover!
What do you think about the choice to tell the story from multiple pov?
Jennie: It’s ambitious to write a book from multiple perspectives, so as a reader I tend to be hesitant at the start. In this case, part of the drive in the story is to find out how the characters are connected. Also, the multiple perspectives makes the story transcend the individual characters by laying out a bigger, more significant narrative that overarches the individual characters.
Did the author accomplish what they set out to with multiple timeline structure?
Anjanette: I think that the way time was handled in this story added to the complexity in a positive way. The three povs are never confusing, and as the clues start to point toward their being multiple timelines as well, it increased tension and kept me turning pages. It was skillfully done.
Do we think that Dystopian novels will make a come back? Is this Dystopian? Or just near-future cli-fi?
Jennie: I’ve heard editors saying that right now they are tired of Dystopian stories with the perhaps too accurate joke that the shelf for Dystopian books should be renamed “Current Events.” That said, I think readers are drawn to explore the future despite how unsettling it can look. It can be tiring to read books without hope.
As with any type of story, readers, especially voracious readers, want stories to be fresh and to add something different to the stories that already exist.
Which characters are most relatable and why?
Anjanette: The chapters are narrated from three different perspectives – Rose, Grant, and White Alice. I found Grant to be the least developed character, and was happy with the role he ended up playing, though I could not relate to him. “White Alice” feels like a single entity even though it/she is comprised of multiple characters, which makes Rose feel like the primary protagonist. This is story is told through a feminist lens, so it makes sense that the women are in the forefront. All that stated, I was surprised to find myself relating to and most invested in a secondary character – The Barber. Perhaps it’s because he stands in for the majority, and for the “past.” He is less of a revolutionary than many of the characters, but is still trying to actively navigate his life and not settle for status quo. I enjoyed learning about the hidden parts of his life as the book progressed.
Is CAMP ZERO “plot-driven” or “character-driven?” Or an “issue book?”
Jennie: CAMP ZERO is a character-driven story. It’s speculative fiction because it’s set in the future and because all the characters face challenges which exist because of the situation of that future world. It stays true to the genre of speculative fiction by having several big plot twists. But, it’s not a plot-driven novel because the characters aren’t sacrificing themselves to accomplish a bigger, more important goal for society; they are following their individual motivations.
While much of the setting and characters’ situations rely on the issue of climate change, the characters in the book are not actively trying to address climate change with political activism, rebellious vandalism, or progressive science. The world ravaged by climate change is not more important than the characters, whereas if this were a plot-driven book, the opposite would be true.
Why do you think this became an instant bestseller?
Anjanette: CAMP ZERO blends a literary style and character-driven story with a fairly commercial plot. Those who enjoy genre fiction will gravitate toward its speculative elements, and those who prefer book club or literary fiction will find robust themes for discussion. The combination of the publishing weight behind the book (it was sold to multiple markets simultaneously, and backed by strong publishers), the gorgeous cover, and the fact that it was picked up for “Read with Jenna” before publication day set it up for success. And the book has a great hook!
Check back soon for our take on more popular books. And remember that reading widely is one of the best investments of time you can make as an author!