Girl in the Woodsby Aspen Matis
Girl in the Woods is Aspen Matis’s exhilarating true-life adventure of hiking from Mexico to Canada—a coming-of-age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation. On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Overprotected by her parents who discouraged her from speaking of the attack,/b>
Girl in the Woods is Aspen Matis’s exhilarating true-life adventure of hiking from Mexico to Canada—a coming-of-age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation. On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Overprotected by her parents who discouraged her from speaking of the attack, Aspen was confused and ashamed. Dealing with a problem that has sadly become all too common on college campuses around the country, she stumbled through her first semester—a challenging time made even harder by the coldness of her college’s “conflict mediation” process. Her desperation growing, she made a bold decision: She would seek healing in the freedom of the wild, on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail leading from Mexico to Canada.
In this inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles her journey, a five-month trek that was ambitious, dangerous, and transformative. A nineteen-year-old girl alone and lost, she conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Exhausted after each thirty-mile day, at times on the verge of starvation, Aspen was forced to confront her numbness, coming to terms with the sexual assault and her parents’ disappointing reaction. On the trail she found her strength, and after a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again—and heal.
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.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Meet the Author
Aspen Matis is a writer living in Greenwich Village, where she's finishing her degree at The New School and working on a novel.
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