GIRL IN THE WOODS by Aspen Matis


A Memoir
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Finding redemption after trauma.

Matis sets up the book as a narrative of salvation. On her second night at college, she was raped in her dorm room. Understandably devastated, she dropped out after her freshman year and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, à la Cheryl Strayed in Wild. Matis periodically reaches back to her childhood in a leafy suburb of Massachusetts, the daughter of two Boston lawyers, to attempt to explain a nagging feeling of not belonging: friends at school teased her for the unfashionable clothes her mother bought her; the girls in her cabin at sleepaway camp teased her; her mother insisted on dressing her until she was well into her teens. Unfortunately, the author is repetitive (“It was a new day, a beautiful one, and I was the director of my life…”; "This time, I'd become the director of my life"), which causes the narrative to bloat (by nearly 100 pages). She also comes off as tone-deaf when she describes her journey on the trail, a trip funded by her parents: “The PCT would end, and I felt panicked. I’d be truly homeless, directionless”—though she also realized that she “could not return to the person she’d picked for me to be. My relationship with my mother trapped me in the identity of a child.” Matis writes vividly of the culture of the PCT—the special treats the locals put out for hikers to find, called “trail magic,” or the “trail angels” who host hikers in small towns along the way—and she is bold in her willingness to expose her psychic wounds. However, it’s difficult to remain sympathetic to her struggles when she widens her frame of victimhood to include her feelings of unattractiveness, her efforts to pry herself from her mother’s smothering grip, and her inability to put in contact lenses or swallow pills.

A memoir of self-discovery by a young writer who still has more work to do.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-229106-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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