This novel takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters at a utopian camp with a charismatic leader. It is a sweeping saga of idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.
First loves, summer flings, mad crushes, and unrequited longings—set all these heady things against the backdrop of Llamalo, a rugged summer camp in the Colorado mountains and within the context of Reagan-era policies and a looming Gulf War, and the experience is a roller-coaster of high drama and shattered ideals ... Abel’s first novel is a finely textured exploration of committed individuals caught in the throes of an idealistic atmosphere.
Abel, who previously worked as a reporter, is a perceptive writer whose astute observations keep the book funny and light even under the weight of its Big Ideas ... Abel draws convincing parallels between the rituals of camp and those of activism: the sign-making, the protesting, the weekly editorial writing.
Abel smartly juxtaposes this fateful summer of structured activities and unstructured hormones with regular flashbacks that reveal the rickety frame on which Camp Llamalo came to be. In the process she satirizes her characters’ idealism and the compromises they make. She also pokes fun at their obtuseness regarding the land and culture they’ve invaded ... The Optimistic Decade is an exceptional coming-of-age novel, in which Abel proves herself a witty social observer who understands not only the thrum and throes of adolescence, but also the power and beauty of youthful energy and dreams.