Camp Afterlife

Young Adult - Coming of Age
235 Pages
Reviewed on 03/06/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Camp Afterlife is a work of fiction in the coming-of-age subgenre. It is aimed at young adult readers and was penned by author Zachary Ryan. Set in the titular Camp Afterlife, the book explores the journey of a young man named Gus who comes to stay at the camp – a pit stop for unfulfilled souls to rest on the journey between life and heaven. Meeting the various other campers who are in need of community and healing, Gus starts to grow past the scars he gained in life. But can he ever lead himself away from the path of self-destruction?

I adore the premise of this book: a place where lost souls can go to come to terms with their fractured and messy lives before moving to their final peace. It’s the sort of fiction that one reads and wishes it wasn’t so fictional, and author Zachary Ryan doesn’t let one drop of the fantastic premise he has created go to waste. The story is littered with beautiful and memorable characters, each with a compelling journey that they are in some stage of, but none sticks out more than the central character, Gus. His realization that the best days of his life have come after it ended is both a stunning piece of writing and utterly heart-breaking. That’s a line that Camp Afterlife carefully walks throughout, handling difficult subject matter with dignity and sensitivity but never fully pulling an emotional punch that the reader needs to have the whole story land.

Pikasho Deka

Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan is a coming-of-age tale that follows seventeen-year-old Gus Osment's story in purgatory for people with tragic deaths. After losing his life to heroin, Gus arrives at Camp Afterlife with considerable baggage. Haunted by his past, Gus soon finds himself shocked when he sees his older brother Neil at the camp. Neil had committed suicide a couple of years ago, leading to the downward spiral of Gus's life. As he navigates his time in Afterlife, he becomes quite enamored with a young man named Luis. However, Luis has a complicated relationship with his on-again-off-again boyfriend David, which makes Gus hesitant. Meanwhile, he watches his friends Lauren and Ashton in the real world as they come to terms with the death of their closest friend.

Author Zachary Ryan tells a gripping tale of a young man whose life turns upside down after suffering a personal tragedy, shifting him to a dark path of drug abuse that ultimately leads to the loss of his life. Camp Afterlife is a coming-of-age story about redemption, about learning to let go and forgive yourself. Ryan handles sensitive topics like drug abuse, assault, and mental illnesses with a mature and nuanced approach. The narrative unflinchingly explores some serious issues, yet it never feels shoved in your face or preachy. The characters are well-realized, with backstories that add layers to their personalities. Although the premise has some similarities with the hit TV show The Good Place, Camp Afterlife feels thoroughly unique. A must-read for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories.

Amy Powers

Camp Afterlife by Zachary Ryan tells the story of one teen's struggle with life and death. Gus awakens after his own tragic death and finds himself as the newest member of Camp Afterlife, a place where he can heal and come to terms with his issues before moving on to the light. From his past drug use to the betrayal of his boyfriend, Gus has a lot to deal with, and it all revolves around his brother's suicide. But Gus's brother is also at Camp Afterlife, struggling with his own life and death as well, and their re-connection isn't making this any easier. Gus is torn between the guilt of his own mistakes in life and the new friendships he has quickly formed at Camp Afterlife, and he isn't sure if he will ever be able to move on.

With themes of suicide, drug use, and overdosing, the contents of Camp Afterlife are not for the innocent or faint of heart, but teenagers dealing with the pressures of young adulthood can certainly relate. Zachary Ryan has taken a series of rather morbid events, most of which no one likes talking about, and placed them in a unique setting that brings awareness to the difficulties that young people face in modern society. I loved the way that so many teenage issues were brought together and taken seriously, without any condescending subtext or preachy moral lessons. Due to the large cast of unforgettable characters, I suspect there are many more stories waiting to be told from Camp Afterlife.