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Kim Fu tells vivid survival story of five pre-teen girls stranded in wilderness

B.C.-born author follows up her acclaimed debut novel For Today I Am a Boy with The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, which in some ways is a companion story.

Kim Fu is following up her widely acclaimed debut novel with The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore.

HarperCollins

Kim Fu is following up her widely acclaimed debut novel with The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore.

For some outdoorsy types, summer camp conjures nostalgic memories of s’mores and sing-alongs. But for others, the very thought of being trapped in the wilderness with a group of strangers in a stuffy tent is a nightmare.

As a kid, B.C.-born author and poet Kim Fu’s camp experience was limited to a few overnight adventures at an outdoor school, but she paints a vivid portrait of the experience in her second novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore. Told through the perspective of five pre-teens from a variety of backgrounds who become stranded during a kayak trip and forced to fend for themselves after an unforeseen death, the story unfolds to show how the tragedy — and the girls’ primal reactions to survive — affects the rest of their lives in a multitude of ways.

Fu originally started writing scenes several years ago with five characters in mind, but didn’t know yet how they were connected. In 2015, Fu was selected for the Writers’ Trust of Canada Berton House residency in Dawson City, Yukon, where she lived in iconic CanLit author Pierre Berton’s northern childhood home for three months where the winter temperatures would drop to a brittle -40 C. When not writing in isolation, Fu chatted with local residents about their lives and hiked through the snow, activities that triggered a breakthrough for the book as she imagined the five characters turning wild with hunger and exhaustion. “I was thinking a lot about survival and vulnerability,” she says. “The images of these girls setting off in their kayaks and getting stranded came to me and cracked the whole thing open.”

Growing up in B.C. as a “bookish, video game-loving kid” who loved reading stories where children were left to fend for themselves, Fu wonders if she picked that in-between age for her characters because it is so cruel. Straddling the innocence of childhood and the rebellion of teenagedom, this is when many young girls begin to test the limits of their power. “It’s this funny time where I think empathy comes to children at different rates. There are all these power struggles, and kids become very good at keeping secrets from adults,” Fu says. “It’s like you’re in this terrible secret world that adults don’t know about.”

In some ways, The Lost Girls is a companion to Fu’s 2014 debut novel For Today I Am a Boy, following the life of a transgender Chinese child. The widely acclaimed book landed on a bunch of award shortlists, including the PEN/Hemingway Award, and established Fu as a talented young writer with an empathetic voice. In different ways, both novels explore the complexities of identity and femininity. “The first book was very much from the perspective of one character considering their own gender, and how everyone around them was grappling with gender identification,” Fu says. “In Lost Girls having a large cast of women, I think that’s a different way of dealing with the expectations and demands of womanhood, and how different forces come to bear on people with different personalities and cultural contexts.”

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