Perennials by Mandy Berman is one of those novels that makes me despair of ever writing a good book.

The story centers around a summer camp, and the format matches the setting. Stories are told in short, intense bursts, without fully resolving the endings. The novel switches between different girls as main characters, but avoids the YA standard of alternating first-person viewpoints. There’s so much emotional nuance in each character, that even when two characters are at odds — and they often are —  readers can’t help understanding them,

There’s so much going on in Perennials, with female relationships at the forefront. Sisters, mothers and daughters, little girl friends, teenage friendships. There are male characters, but they’re defined much more in relation to the women. They’re fathers or boyfriends, secondary to the real emotional action.

Little girls begin at summer camp, excited for crafts, swimming and horses with the bunkmate besties, but as they get older, they discover that some girls get their own horses. Some girls get their own fathers, they discover, while some are secret daughters of secret mistresses.  Some girls can attract boys, or men. This is a hard one to review without spoilers, since discovering along with the characters is what makes this book work so well. There’s a real sense of discovery and realization throughout the story, whether it’s a little girl noticing the differences between herself and her best camp friend, or a woman uncovering the problems in her marriage.

Good fit for fans of Bennington Girls Are Easy or The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.

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