The Adult Version Of Camp Friends Is Just As Fun & Just As Awful

As Bad Summer People author Emma Rosenblum can attest, rich people never age out of camp. They just get summer homes.

by Jessica Goodman

Back in March, Romy Mars, the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Sofia Coppola and Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars, went viral for making a TikTok saying she was grounded for trying to charter a helicopter from New York to Maryland because she wanted to have dinner with her camp friend.

Though few have pockets deep enough to pull a Romy, those of us who went to sleepaway camp (proud member of the former camp kid community right here) could relate: Who wouldn’t want to ditch their school-year life in order to hang out with their camp friends, the people they bonded with outside the constraints of regular life? Because camp kids know this truth: Come summer, the rules don’t apply. You can reinvent yourself. You can do or be anything.

That adage is still true well into adulthood for the privileged few who use “summer” as a verb. The high society coastal elites who trade their city penthouses for seaside second homes and head to their preferred enclaves, separate from the trappings of real life. Non-air-conditioned cabins become palatial beach houses. Campfire s’mores turn into chardonnay happy hours. And all-camp gossip turns into small-town drama. The people who flock to those communities during those heightened, wild months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are really just summer camp friends for adults in their thirties and forties.

No one knows this better than Emma Rosenblum, the author of the sumptuous new novel, Bad Summer People (she’s also the chief content officer of BDG, which owns Bustle), a hilarious and biting story about fabulously rich people doing terrible things during summer vacation, when their normal lives seem like distant memories, and their impulses to act like unsupervised kids at camp take over. It’s a pitch-perfect beach read, set in the fictional, insular, and exclusive community of Salcombe on Fire Island. Her characters engage in illicit affairs, fraudulent financial schemes, and so much high-stakes yet petty drama. Oh yeah, and there’s a murder. As Rosenblum writes in the book, “The people who have houses in Salcombe are just as rich and powerful as Hampton-ites — they're just not wearing shoes.”

“It’s a camp-like dynamic where you can be one kind of person and enjoy your life and act a certain way in that setting, specifically.”

Though Rosenblum has spent every summer of her life in a town similar to Salcombe — and pulled many geographical and cultural details from her own experience — she’s quick to admit that Salcombe is a very heightened version of the one she knows. (“I don’t know anyone who’s having an affair!”). Yet Bad Summer People still exposes some of the universal truths of this not-so-universal experience. “You’re in this removed world altogether and you know each other specifically in that context. It drives a lot of close bonding,” Rosenblum tells Bustle. “Any kind of community where everybody is so close has these elements of drama. They may revert to behavior that’s a little more immature than they would in their regular lives because they have these relationships with people they’ve known forever. There’s a kind of looseness.”

“They may revert to behavior that’s a little more immature than they would in their regular lives because they have these relationships with people they’ve known forever.”

Like camp friends, the characters in Bad Summer People have relationships with one another that exist mostly from June to August. Though they all live in the tristate area, they rarely spend time together outside of Salcombe, where there are no cars and social engagements take place at one another’s beachside homes or at the local Yacht Club, the only place to gather in town. Because of this, there are characters who thrive in this super-specific world and find themselves waiting the rest of the year to get back to the beach. “It’s a camp-like dynamic where you can be one kind of person and enjoy your life and act a certain way in that setting, specifically,” says Rosenblum. “Then outside of it, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who you are. A certain person loves being able to leave their problems behind and go back to a place where they’re known in a certain way.”

There’s also a playfulness in the kinds of leisure activities that take place: tennis tournaments for adults, boozy get-togethers every night, letting yourself into one another’s homes without concern. Careers don’t exist — or if they do, they’re in the periphery. It’s a kind of Peter Pan-esque lifestyle only occupied by the folks who can afford to go full White Lotus-levels of affluence for three unbothered months.

But, as Rosenblum’s characters and all campers know, there can be too much of a good thing. With a finite number of people to hang out (and hook up) with, cheating scandals catch up to you, secrets are revealed, and at some point, you just want a break from the people who define your existence by whatever you decide to do in the summer, when the sun sets later and the ocean’s only a short walk away.

Lucky for these folks, summer doesn’t last forever and neither do endless beach days or clandestine visits with hot young tennis pros. By September, everybody is back to their normal routines, where school calendars and responsibilities replace barefoot walks on the boardwalk and bike rides to nowhere. In Bad Summer People, that’s only sad for the readers, because as Rosenblum says, “By the end of the summer, you’re like ‘I’m done.’” Though, after a long cold winter, she and all the other bad summer people — camp kids and high-powered adults alike — come to welcome the warmer months and the chance to escape for the summer anew.