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No Place Like Here: 12/27/19

No Place Like Here

No Place Like Here by Christina June opens with a high school aged girl being sent to her aunt and uncle's home after her father pleads guilty to tax evasion and her mother goes into rehab for self medicating her depression and anxiety. She's been found a job, against her will, at a summer retreat. She'll be working alongside her cousin, Hannah.

From the very first evening it's clear even to uninitiated Ashlyn that something is amiss with the camp. The sudden retirement of the long time camp manager gives the place a sense of a power void. The new manager doesn't honor the already agreed upon jobs. She also never seems to be present nor does the office seem to be at all organized.

Ashlyn, assigned to the office, quickly becomes aware of just how bad things are. With Hannah's previous experience the two know how things should be run. They begin to realize that the manager's carelessness has led to an injury and could easily lead to a death.

No Place Like Here with it's camp setting, it's sweets obsessed office manager, and the cousins bonding like siblings in the absence of their parents, is also a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. That clue, also informs the novel's placement on the road narrative spectrum.

The first question when identifying placement on the spectrum, is who is the traveler? As cousins, one could count them collectively as family (33). That would put the entire novel far down the spectrum into the realistic fiction, which it is. But that would place the two in a position of relative privilege without the expectation of action. Namely, they would do their assigned jobs but they wouldn't step up to save the camp.

If however, they are stand-ins for Hansel and Gretel, then we can by extension infer that their relationship as travelers is that of siblings (CC). They have nothing but each other. As such, they are also compelled by circumstance to go above and beyond their assignments.

Furthermore, The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018) uses the closeness of cousins and siblings to blur the lines. If cousins can be literal siblings, then so can they be metaphorical ones.

The next piece of the equation is the destination. Here the answer is obvious: the wildlands (99). The camp is a mountain retreat with a lake. It is the same wildlands that Hansel and Gretel. The wildlands is the crossover point from destinations magical/impossible to destinations grounded in the real, the understandable, the mundane.

For Ashlyn and Hannah, the camp should be mundane, but with the lack of leadership by the new office manager, it has become something potentially dangerous. The wildlands doesn't represent a direct personal threat here. Rather, the threat is to paying guests of the camp.

The last piece of the equation is the route taken. Here No Place Like Here departs ways with Hansel and Gretel. The cousins drive to the camp — or more precisely, are driven to the camp. As it's a remote camp but still a drivable route, the implication is that the route is a blue highway (33). That last detail, takes the Hansel and Gretel story and moves it from a fantasy setting into a realistic and contemporary one.

All together, No Place Like Here is about cousins who become as close as siblings during a trip to the wildlands via the Blue Highway, and manage to save the camp from a sweets obsessed, negligent office manager.

Four stars

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