YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION: Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen


A middle grade memoir, giving readers a new perspective on the origins of Gary Paulsen's famed survival stories.

His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.


When I first started reading Gone to the Woods, I wasn't sure that I was going to like it.  But once Paulsen started telling about his experiences with his uncle in the woods, I was hooked.  I was reminded of just what a good storyteller he was (sad sigh).  I quite enjoyed the parts with his aunt and uncle where he started to feel like he had a home.  Then his mother showed up with some strange man and it quickly became clear that any hope he had of a home was gone.  The parts about his life in the Philippines were heartbreaking, both in terms of what he saw in a city destroyed by war, but also in the neglect and abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents.  My heart was touched by the kindness of the librarian who changed Paulsen's life forever by introducing him to stories and writing.  The way he survived during that time, pretty much taking care of himself by hunting and fishing in the woods, picking up odd jobs here and there, and cooking meals on a hot plate in the run down basement of his parents' apartment building.  The last part of the book tells about his joining the army and some of the experiences that led him back to writing.  I wasn't sure at first what the theme of this book was as the stories skipped parts of his life. I did come to realize though that the theme of the book was to highlight the events in his life that lead him to the woods and writing, the two things that meant the most in his life.  A powerful set of stories about surviving and finding your path despite the awful things that can sometimes happen. 


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