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Lightening review: My Side of the Mountain

It’s always a pleasure to revisit an old favourite, and this is exactly what I did when I reread My Side of the Mountain by Jean George. It was one of my favourites as a kid; I read it many times, so it was nice to go back.

The story follows Sam, young teen from New York City, who has decided he will run away from home and live off the land. He makes his way to his great-grandfather’s land in the Catskill Mountains, determined to survive free of dependence on electricity and machines. Throughout the book he comes a long way from the first night – when he can’t get a fire started and is convinced he will freeze and starve – to making a home for himself, finding a plethora of food sources, and even making new clothes.

My Side of the Mountain is an interesting examination of survival and solitude. It was a fairly short read (I finished it in less than a day) but it’s well-crafted, interesting, and different from what I’ve been reading lately. Still holds up, all these years after publication (1959). Recommended for all from children to adults.


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Lightening review: The Kid

This 242-page read really took me for a ride.

I can’t tell you The Kid is an enjoyable read, but it is an important one. In it, Kevin Lewis tells about the first 30 years of his life. He endured horrific abuse from his parents, was failed by the child welfare system, and became a criminal as a young adult to avoid falling into the same poverty his family had been in.

While it’s a difficult read emotionally, Lewis tells his story well. For the first entire half (and more), as he details the abuse meted out to him by his parents throughout his childhood, I felt such rage toward anyone who could harm an innocent kid.

I asked myself why I was reading something that hurt so much to read, and the answer that came to me was: to understand. Lewis originally wrote the book as a way of explaining  his past to his wife, but his hope for it grew:

I wanted her to understand who I am and what has happened to me … I decided to publish it in the hope that others would understand what it’s like for a child to have no hope … give a little more insight into why some kids so badly wrong, so that we can find ways to help them feel less frightened, abandoned and alone in the world.

And I realized this isn’t a book to read for my own enjoyment.

This story has been repeated way too many times, in way too many families. Maybe if enough of us are willing to face the uncomfortable truth long enough to hear these stories, we can begin to see the warning signs. Maybe we can start to understand the root causes for a family as dysfunctional as Lewis’s was.

And maybe, just maybe, we can start working toward change.

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Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Note: I wrote this review last year and for some reason neglected to post it. I recently found it on my hard drive and since I’m currently reading the sequel, figured maybe it’s time.

[January 2015]

I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo during my vacation at the end of January. I hadn’t seen the movie and hardly knew anything about the story except that it was good but intense.

It begins with a quote about violence against women in Sweden:

18% of the women in Sweden have been threatened by a man.

Later, as I continued reading, I realized that was an ominous sign. I hadn’t realized violence against women was such a significant theme.

The book starts more slowly than you might expect, with a character you don’t think will be important in a book titled ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ It’s the type of book that makes you feel smarter as you’re reading, the kind that uses big words but isn’t presumptuous about it. I had to look up definitions for one or two, although I understood the gist without the dictionary definition. The story unravels in a slow and almost meandering way before suddenly getting into a suspenseful part that makes you want to shut the world out so you can read.

Despite having the luxury of a long book and plenty of time with his readers, Larsson does not make the mistake I feel Martin does with the Game of Thrones series, which is taking 500 pages for the reader to really get to know (and begin empathizing with) and start caring for the characters. Larsson does not shove them in  your face, but you form an opinion about each person soon enough. The characters quickly become familiar, and you get to know their faults as well as virtues. The whole thing is written in third person omniscient which gives an almost-impersonal feel, since you know everything the character is feeling but only from the outside. But that is more of a nitpicking comment than anything else because the story is incredible. It sucks you in before you’ve realized you’re interested and what goes from seemingly-unimportant events and encounters to grab-the-arm-of-your-chair, look-over-your-shoulder suspense and some gruesome finds.

[Mild spoilers]

Having heard a bit about the story, especially when the English version of the movie came out, I was anticipating a rape scene, or at least a scene with sexual violence. However, I never would have expected it to be as graphic and horrible as it was, especially with the style of writing and date of publication (it’s not a new book). I also did not expect the level of horror and depravity in other parts of the book, once I’d made it past that scene. So if you read it, beware. This book isn’t for children or the faint of heart.

I guess I didn’t realize it was a murder mystery. I rarely read a book without knowing what it’s about and this was an interesting experience.

Extremely well-written. Excellent character development, the right mix of description and action, realistic dialogue, and of course a good (though not always enjoyable) plot.

Graphic, disturbing content may upset some readers. I know it upset me.