Trigger Warning: This book and its review include discussion about rape, abuse, kidnapping, and violence.
Akin to Wild, Aspen Matis has created a memoir about her journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to the Canadian border. Throughout the journey, Matis relays her story as a nineteen year old introvert who was raped in college and shamed by her family for it.
Back then, she was known as Debbie, and though hiking had been a part of her life, she decided to challenge herself and hike the PCT solo, hoping that it would help her sort out the emotional trauma caused by the rape, by her own insecurities, and by the rocky relationship she had with her parents (especially her mother). Along the trail, she meets challenge after challenge- from the physical to mental- and learns that she can trust herself to work through them. She also learns a lot about love on the trail, and what it means to open herself to the possibility of a true intimate relationship.
For me, Girl In The Woods is a “modern” (ie, newer) edition of Wild, but unfortunately it also read like it was a meant for a younger (and sadly, more immature) audience. Being in my late 20’s, there is a lot of realistic drama that seemed like it could have been just typical maturity issues that eventually Debbie would outgrow. There is also a lot of coddling on her mother’s part, which Debbie considered a hindrance on her own development and independence (which I would agree)- but something that would probably be outgrown or overcome without such a drastic journey. I also felt that in comparison to Wild, the introspection is much younger, much more shallow.
However, with that said, this is Debbie’s/ Matis’ story, and therefore, it shouldn’t be compared to anyone else’s. I applaud the author for sharing her truth, and for finding the strength to work through her struggles in such a healthy manner. It’s such a physical feat to accomplish, that much is obvious, but it’s also an immense mental and emotional feat as well. Matis’ story is inspirational, honest, and insightful at times.
I listened to this novel on audiobook, and I have to stay, I think that was part of the turnoff for me. The narrator can make or break an audiobook, and the narrator in this case (Stephanie Tucker) just irritated me. Mixed with the youthful tone of the author, I struggled to enjoy the novel. Overall, while the message of the novel is positive and relatable, unless you are specifically seeking a memoir of how someone overcame the trauma of rape, I wouldn’t recommend this read, and certainly not the audiobook.