Two years ago, I reviewed and abhorred Mindy McGinnis’ fantasy novel, Given to the Sea, but even when I finished it and rated it zero stars, I still wanted to explore what else she’s done. I mean, she has a rep for trying out all sorts of genres, so what kind of critic would I be to ignore that? In fact, I’m just like her in that regard; my first series I wrote was made up of contemporary spy thrillers, The Shoreline is an adult romance, and my next book is a high fantasy. So I speculated for a while which one of McGinnis’ books I’d try out for a second round. I was leaning most towards Not A Drop to Drink or Heroine, but I ended up going with this relatively brand new one.
Ashley Hawkins is a teenager with a fair bit of training in wildlife. Her house is basically wildlife anyway; she and her father live in a trailer park with sometimes garbage bags for windows and if her father isn’t at his starvation-wage job, he’s maybe clonked out after his eleventh beer. Completely untypical in her high school world she goes out to this giant forest, name of the forest not really known, for a camping trip with her friends Meredith, Kavita, boyfriend Duke and a few other guests. But things switch gears even more than the virus has for us all when Ashley catches Duke cheating on her. Horrified, betrayed, and enraged she runs away from him and the camp – and soon she not only ends up lost with no weapons or communication methods or even proper footprints, but with a damaged, no, broken, foot.
If I were writing this book, I must confess, I’d have probably come up with a coincidence that had Ashley run away with a pocket knife she’d forgotten about. I wouldn’t have had the guts or imagination to have her on her own with a broken foot and no tools whatsoever. But Mindy McGinnis did have the guts and imagination.
This book is short; 230 short pages and probably less than a 40k word count. But it still takes time to read, and that’s because dialogue is the easiest section of reading a book, because it’s more relatable, simple, short, and fun to read than descriptions, and Ashley gives dialogue to herself at some of her thoughts she deems ridiculous, but this is honestly very little of that in this book, unsurprisingly. So a lot is instead on description and flashbacks, and every chapter feels like a journey.
The only criticism I have is that sometimes the story stalls. When left to one’s own mind and fear of death, life flashes before you, so with that plus flat-out loneliness, it makes sense lots of this book reminisces about Ashley’s life before she got lost. But I was often more interested in what was going on that moment and I would have preferred less pauses. Still, Ashley goes through unforgettable perils without anything to ease her dread. Not one thing. And we can feel it. This book is like Gary Paulsen taken to the next level, and then the next. Through Ashley’s disaster, I’ve learned a lesson I’ll never forget; even if I catch my boyfriend cheating on me in the woods, I mustn’t run away from the campsite! Mustn’t!!!