The Camino Club: Six Wayward Teens Connect

Six wayward Canadian teenagers are sentenced to serve time for their crimes, but before their penalty is finished, they all say their punishment is actually a reward and they don’t want it to end. Their lives have been transformed.

An implausible plot, you say?

The mismatched kids, four boys and two girls who do not know each other, are given a choice: Carry a backpack on the last section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain or serve time in Canada. Each of them grudgingly takes the walking option.

Author Kevin Craig wrote The Camino Club after walking the Camino and it is a story that will feel authentic to anyone who has experienced the famed path across Spain. Be careful, though, because reading this book could lead your feet, like mine, to the Camino.

The story is told through the alternating voices of three of the teens, who gradually open their true selves to each other. And they are increasingly honest with themselves.

Love, friendship, anxiety, grief, sexuality, and family are themes in this coming-of-age novel that will appeal to grownups. The kids, who are accompanied by two adult counselors, lash out at each other, learn the value of forgiveness, fall in love, accept hardships, and grow to value the simple things in life.

Like life on the real Camino, they bridge decades of age differences with fellow pilgrims they meet along the way. One, Bastien, 74, becomes part of their Camino family and brings richness to their lives and to this story. They learn to love him like a grandfather and a best friend, but they only learn an important truth about him during the final miles of their week and a half together.

They realize that shared adventure brings out their best and forms bonds that will last a lifetime. The Camino showers the teenagers with feelings of achievement and growth.

The next words are for author Kevin Craig:

Well done! This is a wonderful story, but I hope it is not finished. I await your sequel, a reunion walk, when the kids have had some years to reflect on the experience and where it has taken them.

A Desperate Teenager Searches for the Way Home

It is 1933, the depth of the Great Depression and the low point of 15-year-old Robert’s life. His father has died and his mother seeks ways to feed her five children. They lose their home and move into a tiny house.

In The Only Way Home, Jeanette Minniti describes how Robert, like many other older children of the times, makes decisions adults would find daunting.

Robert, a sensitive, vulnerable, strong-willed kid, leaves home with his friend Johnny to find work so they can bring home money to their families. They leave Illinois and head south, jumping into freight cars on trains that claimed the lives of many during the difficult times. Their luck is slim and Johnny returns home, leaving Robert to endure hunger, danger, and law enforcement. He meets 17-year-old Tucker and they quickly bond while scraping together small jobs and inventing ways to find enough food to get by. But not enough to return home.

They ride trains, even atop a passenger car, and warily meet hobos. Meanwhile, Robert’s mom longs to know his whereabouts and if he is still alive. Robert realizes his mom must be worried, but he won’t quit until he earns enough money to make a difference for his family.

His resilience, a violin, and his musical talent play roles in this moving story. So do several programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, created during the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

This is Minniti’s debut novel and I eagerly anticipate her next book. The Only Way Home captivated me. Being a child of poverty and raised by an immigrant mother who cleaned homes and hospital rooms to keep food on our table, I can relate to the family’s struggles, but I never faced the challenges Robert tackled. As a young adult, my mom had lived through the Depression, which raised the bar of desperation and hardship.

Question is, does Robert ever find his way home?