As if conversion therapy isn’t already scary enough, try going through that with a killer coming after the campers one by one. That’s the premise for this slasher novel by Elliot Arthur Cross and Joshua Winning. Reading this as a gay man, I couldn’t help but feel for the characters and their plight. The kills come fast, for better and for worse, with a wrap-up that goes bonkers. Let’s see how I fared during my stay at Camp Genesis.

What is it About?

Written by Elliot Arthur Cross & Joshua Winning, Camp Carnage is a slasher novel that was first published in 2014. Per the Goodreads synopsis:

“In the summer of 1986, Billy Collins is sent to his own personal Hell – summer camp. The remote Camp Genesis offers desperate parents a place to “straighten” out their gay teenagers with the help of the puritanical Katherine Creevey. Besides the typical horsing around, campfire tales and summer games, the Genesis program forces gay and questioning teens into humiliating gender-based lessons. While Billy wants nothing more than to escape Camp Genesis, he can’t help worrying that something even more sinister is hiding just out of sight. Unknown to Billy, two campers were murdered three years ago. Just days after Billy and the new campers arrive, people start to go missing, and it’s up to Billy and his new friend Jem to find out what’s really going on. Is a maniac on the loose? Is history repeating itself? One thing’s for sure – at Camp Genesis, you have to fight to survive…”

What Worked?

Cross and Winning do a great job at establishing engaging characters. Almost immediately after they’re introduced, characters like Billy and Jem are felt as relatable and charming. Even mean bully characters like Kyle are also interesting when we get to his chapters. While Kyle is the total opposite of Billy, the “boy next door” type, his mean boy antics can be compelling to read. His motivations for why he does what he does for himself and to other campers come from relatable places, even though they’re not always in good nature. Surprisingly, Camp Carnage has a large cast which readers may find likeable, despicable, or somewhere in between. There are even characters that surpise you with what they’re capable of, especially near the end. It’s in some of these moments that I’m caught by surprise. While not having experienced the horrors of conversion therapy firsthand, some methods explored in this book tugged at my heartstrings.

The writers also do a great job of writing these conversion therapy tactics realistically. The camp officials that run the place aren’t mad, cackling bigots. In fact several of them have some dimensions to them. Sure, they’re open about their anti-queer views but for the most part, it feels like any old summer camp. That is until the campers get too comfortable expressing their queerness, and the insidious and manipulative methods of these officials are revealed. Honestly, those moments caught me off-guard much more than the initial slayings by the mysterious killer.

The kills in this book were not quite what I expected. While they weren’t balls-to-the-walls gory, they’re made effective thanks to the character development established by the authors. Kills are done mostly by garden shears (a possible nod to slasher film classic, The Burning) but you feel the loss of the characters that get offed. Largely, it is the loss of a life that’s young and full of hope. This also has impact on the remaining characters as it could be the loss of a friend or a crush, making the kills potent.

That said, these elements still stand when the killer is revealed, with an added touch: the killer is revealed to be an absolutely sadistic nutter. While the hallmarks from previous kill scenes are retained, there’s also an added element of pulse-pounding suspense as bodies drop and survivors scramble for safety. Who ends up on the chopping block, and who makes it to safety, were quite a surprise.

What Did Not Work?

I was satisfied with the book but slasher fans who need their bloodthirst to be quenched may find themselves parched as most of the kills are mostly quick, never lingering. I’d urge you stick around for the final act though!

Also, if you’re the kind of reader that doesn’t want even a smidge of social commentary in their horror books, especially the kind that pertains to the horror of conversion therapy, this might not be the book for you.

Where Can I Find It?

Camp Carnage is available on Amazon.

Overall Thoughts

Camp Carnage is all the fun of an ’80s slasher with interesting and endearing characters while portraying the all-too-real horror of conversion therapy. The writers don’t play favorites when it comes to who meets the ends of a pair of garden shears, especially in the denouement, keeping readers on their toes as much as they tug at the heartstrings. While it does play it a bit safe in earlier scenes, the relentlessness of the final act and its portrayal of conversion therapy make for a compelling read.

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