The Optimistic Decade

Heather Abel's witty and immersive debut novel, The Optimistic Decade, set against the stark and beautiful backdrop of high desert and mountains in western Colorado in the early 1990s, explores the ways that people try to make a difference.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca has grown up in an activist family in Los Angeles and now attends UC Berkeley. Her father, Ira, comes for a rare visit, and Rebecca is certain he's going to offer her a summer job at his leftist newspaper. She's ready to join the family business and make her father proud. Instead, he wants her to be a counselor at a utopian summer camp, Llamalo, in Colorado run by his nephew, Caleb.

Caleb has created an isolated camp where he can teach young people about living simply and protecting the land. The rancher who used to own the land works for him, but now his son is threatening to take back the property. Rebecca reluctantly agrees to work there, while David, a friend her age, enthusiastically attends camp for his last time--hoping that Caleb will hire him so he can live at Llamalo year-round and always be the person he is there.

All of the characters are changed that summer, while they grapple with questions of identity, purpose and how to make a difference in the world. A strong sense of place invites additional questions about land ownership and wilderness. Woven in among these thoughtful ideas is an engaging and entertaining story about growing up, passion and disillusionment. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book By Book blog

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