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Book Talk: Jessica Goodman, ‘The Counselors’

I flat-out love Jessica Goodman. She is to today’s wealthy and pampered teenaged girls what J.D. Salinger was to Holden Caulfield, including the homage to Holden’s former school, Pencey Prep. You know, that school that advertised in magazines, “always showing some hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence.”

“The Counselors” (2022, 345 pages) is Goodman’s third novel, and each confronts the angst of teenage girls who circulate in a milieu of wealth and who have the aspiration to attend Ivy League or other A-list colleges. Specifically, this novel centers on the friendship that Goldie Easton has formed with Ana and Imogen, a friendship that is so strong that the girls practically function as a single unit.

The girls first met when they were nine years old and attending Alpine Lake Camp in Vermont, a summer camp that is so selective that one must pass a test in order to be admitted. Then, their gazillionaire parents must shovel heaps of money to the camp’s owners for their eight-week stay. This year, however, will be the trio’s last summer before they head off to their respective colleges, and they are now camp counselors and lifeguards.

The camp is located near Roxwood, a small town of working-class people who are not allowed to enter camp grounds. Goldie is a “townie,” but she has attended camp every summer for no charge because her parents work for the camp owners. Over the years, Goldie, Ava, and Imo have vowed never to keep secrets from one another. But this summer, each has secrets that she fears will pull their friendship apart.

Goldie is our narrator for this story, and we know that her secret is that during the past year she fell in love with Heller, a local boy. One night, while driving drunk, Heller accidentally hits a classmate who dies. Fearing to lose his scholarship to Princeton, Heller asks Goldie if she will say that she was the driver, and she agrees. Because Heller was captain of the championship hockey team and the pride of the town, Goldie is shunned by the people of Roxwood.

Having flunked out of high school and, therefore, losing her chance to attend any college in the fall, Goldie manages to trudge through the end of the school year because Alpine Lake Camp and her best friends await. But before camp opens, Heller is found dead, floating in the lake. His death is declared to have been accidental, but Goldie knows that he was the best swimmer in town and suspects that he was murdered.

As the weeks unfold, it begins to appear than Heller had some sort of connection to Alpine Lake Camp. Moreover, there are tiny hints that something is wrong with camp, itself. As Goldie tries to knit the bits and pieces together, she risks rending her relationship with Ava and alienating Imo in the process.

This novel is an intelligent and interesting mystery thriller with complex characters, cleverly drawn by the author. If you enjoy the book as much as I, you’ll want to read Goodman’s other works, “The Wish They Were Us” (reviewed on Aug. 17, 2022) and “They’ll Never Catch Us” (reviewed on Nov. 9, 2022).

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Jim Glynn may be contacted at


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