A physical journey up Mount Kilimanjaro and an emotional journey through a lifetime of baggage.
When journalist Whitely embarked on her third trip up Kilimanjaro—Africa’s highest peak—she had already made it to the top once and made a second failed attempt. What caused the second and third climbs to be different, and significantly more difficult than the first, was the extra weight. At more than 300 pounds, the author was definitely not the norm on the mountain, and she was battling more than altitude sickness and fatigue. In addition to the immense physical challenges, Whitely’s journey on Kilimanjaro served as an opportunity to battle demons of abuse and abandonment and an eating addiction. The author’ story is immediately engaging, as she chronicles her initial Kilimanjaro triumph and her follow-up failure with wit, energy and color. Her general background is equally striking: Tales of her binge eating strike a visceral chord alongside her desire to find inside herself a different person, a new stereotype of “hiker girl” rather than overweight girl. The first half of the memoir, well paced, compellingly juggles the two personas of addictive eater and avid hiker. The second half of the memoir, however, becomes repetitive. Whitely spent her time on the mountain thinking about her past and her obsessive eating, and while that was clearly a long, reflective process, it becomes heavy in the retelling, overshadowing the journey. Readers expecting an inspirational story about a mountain climb may feel like they’ve lost the plot amid reminiscences of an absentee father and the author’s previous attempts at confronting her weight. The focus slips away from Kilimanjaro and lands squarely on Whitely’s weight problems, which is problematic because the book lacks resolution on that front.
Disappointing despite its honesty and flair.