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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
It is a future that is frighteningly palpable. A distant war rages overseas. The ordinary conveniences of everyday life — food, transportation, electricity — can no longer be taken for granted. Deadly diseases have mutated and become stronger. In this milieu, two young girls on the cusp of womanhood discover themselves and each other. Jean Hegland's first novel, Into the Forest, eloquently tells their story and, in doing so, effortlessly captures the beauty of humanity.
Eva, 18, and Nell, 17, are sisters who live in a house situated in the middle of acres of California forest. Eva is an extremely dedicated ballerina. Her inexorable ardor for dance is matched only by her sister's thirst for knowledge. Eva wanted to audition for the San Francisco Ballet; now, without electricity, she dances to the unyielding, emotionless beat of the metronome. Nell wanted to attend Harvard; now she spends her days studying the encyclopedia. Both girls were home-schooled, so their lives have been slightly sheltered — but never as sheltered as when their parents died, leaving them to survive by their wits in a truly uncertain world.
Is this a tale about two girls surviving in an unthinkable postapocalyptic future, a sort of Pride and Prejudice meets 1984? Thankfully, no. Hegland leaves the details of the world's breakdown quite vague. There is a dire shortage of natural resources, there is disease, war...or, as Hegland says, "We have so many problems today that if the apocalypse does come, I think it will be a combination of things."Butthat is not what this story is about. The world that Hegland creates is an environment, a catalyst for the much more profoundly moving story of her protagonists.
The story is told by Nell in the first person and moves between the present and various past moments in the girls' lives. As you read Hegland's wonderful prose, especially her lush descriptions and skillful metaphors, you will be introduced to characters that have the breath of life. The girls' father has a kind of hopeful cynicism. The mother is quiet, introspective, sometimes seeming not to care, though she always does. Eva's and Nell's thoughts and words flow with the logic and feeling of actual human beings.
Hegland's novel explores both self-discovery and the discovery of others. One of the simplest (yet, paradoxically, most complex) goals a writer can achieve is to tell a story about life — about the value, the wonder, the diversity of life. With Into the Forest, Jean Hegland goes beyond this goal, presenting a tale whose characters come alive. You believe in the lives she creates, and you might even recognize yourself.