Girl in the woods A memoir

Aspen Matis

Book - 2015

An 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.

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[New York, NY] : HarperCollins Publishers 2015.
Main Author
Aspen Matis (author)
Physical Description
384 pages ; 24 cm
  • Prologue
  • Part I. Terrible Seeds
  • Chapter 1. The Garden City
  • Chapter 2. Terrible Seeds
  • Chapter 3. Blood on the Tracks
  • Chapter 4. The Things I Carried
  • Chapter 5. The Dangers of the Desert
  • Chapter 6. Unbound Ghosts
  • Chapter 7. Mirages
  • Chapter 8. Hollow Words
  • Chapter 9. Wild Dreams
  • Chapter 10. Trail Magic
  • Part II. The Range of Light
  • Chapter 11. Love in the Woods
  • Chapter 12. Distance to Paradise
  • Chapter 13. No Harm Will Befall You
  • Chapter 14. The Range of Light
  • Part III. The Way Through
  • Chapter 15. A Thousand Miles of Solitude
  • Chapter 16. The Director of My Life
  • Chapter 17. Inside Fire
  • Chapter 18. Love Notes Under Rocks
  • Chapter 19. A Hiker's Guide to Healing
  • Chapter 20. A Girl in the Woods
  • Epilogue
  • International Resources
  • Acknowledgments
Review by New York Times Review

Pilgrimage is a time-honored motif, and it should not be surprising to see another memoir of a woman finding herself on the Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada traversed in part, and memorably so, by Cheryl Strayed in "Wild." But though the trail is the same, Matis takes an entirely different journey, tormented and driven by different traumas. Raped on her second night at college, she is bewildered by her campus's dismissive reaction, as well as her own shame. She leaves school and seeks solace in solitude. But Matis is never truly alone; she enters into relationships on her journey, and her parents bear down upon her. She seems to be fleeing them even as they fund her trip and stock her with shoes, gear and a satellite phone. This is a younger, angrier book than "Wild." The story is raw and immediate (if occasionally overwritten), and it isn't just a reckoning with trauma but also a reckoning with the self and an embrace of selfreliance. It's easy to imagine Matis becoming a hero to young women trying to find a means of navigating adulthood.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 15, 2015]
Review by Booklist Review

Matis' world was turned on its head on her second night at Colorado College, when she was raped by a fellow student. When the college did nothing about the assault, save for moving her assailant out of her dorm, Matis toughed it out for a year before deciding to drop out in favor of hiking the famous Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. When Matis starts out in 2008, she's full of grief and anger over the assault and steeped in resentment toward her family for their failure to support her after the rape. Matis immediately joins up with two male hikers, and the party of three becomes a party of two when Matis and one of the hikers, nicknamed Icecap, become romantically involved. But the relationship sours, and Matis finds herself hiking alone on the trail, creating time for introspection but also leaving her vulnerable to danger. Comparisons to Wild (2012) are unavoidable, but readers who decide to accompany Matis on the PCT will find themselves in for an engrossing, often suspenseful journey with a rewarding outcome.--Huntley, Kristine Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

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, 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 PCTthe 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 wayand 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.