Thursday, 7 January 2016

Girl In The Woods by Aspen Matis: Book Review

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 telling 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 and on her own, she found that survival is predicated on persistent self-reliance. She found her strength. After a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again—and heal.

Told with elegance and suspense, Girl in the Woods is a beautifully rendered story of eroding emotional and physical boundaries to reveal the truths that lie beyond the edges of the map.


If there were any way to present a memoir in a way which would inspire thousands then Aspen Matis has done it. Here in this beautiful written book lies a story of agony and betrayal turned inspiration and courage. In my time of reading books and watching movies, there has never been anything so delicate and bold at the same time, in my opinion. Matis has brought writing a real life story to a whole new level and unfortunately she had to be the bearer of this burden-turned-blessing. In this memoir, Matis described how the terrible moment of being date raped broke her confidence and trust in everyone around her, including her family, which ends up leading her to make a bold decision to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail - basically walking the entire trail from Mexico to Canada - in order to find herself again. From the young Debby Parker to Aspen Matis, a young, shattered soul walks through 2,650 miles of desert and mountains in order to transform herself into the strong, successful woman that she is today.

Like I have said in past reviews of memoirs, I hate the idea of completely criticising it because it is a real life story. To say this was a well-written book is a complete understatement. I thoroughly devoured this within a couple of weeks, just because I was busy and couldn't read as much. I did however spend almost a whole night finishing the last 200 pages and I would do it over and over again if I could. Diving in to such a highly acclaimed book made me feel fresh and renewed as I have never read anything so dense and wild - it had me hooked from the start. Matis has a profound way of using words to descriptively visualize the setting in your mind. I feel like most fictional stories don't have enough of this which shows that she really knows her stuff - plus she has an amazing and vivid memory which she manages to print on to the page flawlessly. Her determination to start and finish this five month journey with or without help from other trekkers is totally inspiring for all girls and woman alike - a true example of a leader and heroine. The fact that she also managed to deal with the majority of the hikers being men, especially knowing how she was raped by one at her college in Colorado, she finds the will to accomplish more than anyone else by making peace with these strangers and even hiking for a few days and nights with a few. Not only does Matis retell her story in full retrospect, but she vividly details the beautiful chemistry between herself and another hiker whom seems to respect her for who she is and sees the truth in her eyes. From trail magic to trail angels, this journey is one hell of a ride that you will want to be on.

Things I LOVE about Girl In The Woods:

* She had her name changed from Debby Parker to Aspen Matis! The basic idea of her decision to do this was the fact that she felt it discerned her from the person she used to be. After the hike she feels she has learnt a lot and transformed herself through a journey of nature and beauty, why else would you want to change your name? I feel like it fits her, especially seeing as she mentions the name, Aspen many times throughout the book.

* The beauty of the trail seems unimaginable unless you actually do it yourself! As much as Aspen managed to describe the beauty of this trail, from dusty badlands to treacherous mountain tops, I still feel like this walk would not be fully imagined until you actually go there yourself. Now I'm not saying that anyone should just take Aspen's advice and do this trail just because of anything. She had her reasons to do the trail but there is also another main point that I picked up while reading; taking walks in nature is purifying and beautiful and you can do it anywhere. Personally I love nature and being around trees and lakes so I would do this anyday I had the chance. It's just a shame there weren't as many photos of the trail as I would have expected!

* From Debby to Aspen: The story of a girl who became a woman! Coming of age stories are one of my many favourites and I would have to say that reading about Aspen's transformation made me feel empowered and invincible. The fact that she walked this trail at 19 years of age, which is how old I am at this exact moment, makes me feel personally like I could attempt the same and come out a better person too. It is inspiring to me just as much as it would inspire anyone else and though I respect Aspen for taking such a dangerous journey to find herself, I would not be so bold unless I had something to push me that far too. I think I'll just stick to day walks for now!

* Aspen is such a beautiful person and she is my hero! From what I have read so far about Aspen, not from her book but from interviews, reviews and praises, I feel like Aspen has proved to us females that we are just as tough as males and just because we are expected to sit tight, be polite and do whatever is expected of us, it's not what we have to do. We can go out and choose to trek crazy trails like this. We can choose to make a living on our own and be independent without a man to support us. We can be ourselves and not have to expect people to like us. Girls have a right to be heard and be important and powerful just as much as guys. Aspen makes me feel like I have a voice that will be heard because she proved to me that even though something precious was taken from her, she can survive and become stronger because of it. She won't let anything break her and because of that, neither will I.

Overall I have given this book a 5 out of 5 stars. This book was inspiring, beautiful, courageous, infectious and delightful. I couldn't have read anything more amazing and I just hope that one day I will be able to read her next book and by that time, her voice will be heard by millions.

Thank you HarperCollins New Zealand for the review copy! Go like their Facebook page here:

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