My Side of the Mountain by Jean George

Read: 28 May, 2017

This book was utterly up Kid Me’s alley. I was that loner child who used to sneak off into the woods every afternoon to make my own bow and arrows. I’m that kid who once got a bunch of sticks smoking using nothing but forest stuff and a piece of string pulled from my school uniform tie. I’m that kid who read “kid survives in the wilderness” stories almost exclusively. And I loved this book.

My kid has been getting into the same spirit, so I figured it was time to share My Side with him. And he really loved it. The best part is that it’s been great for getting him to come out on nature walks with me, and he’s been really interested in how different plants can be used, what’s edible, that sort of thing. I’m looking forward to camping season starting to see if he’s more engaged there, too.

I have to admit, though, all the talk of running away made me rather nervous. I ran away all the time as a child, and I’m sure I worried my parents grey. But, blessedly, the idea never seems to have occurred to my child. Even when he’s upset and totally hates me,he still stays close to home. It made me super nervous that this book was going to put the idea of running away from home into his head. So far, though, that seems to have been unfounded. We’ve talked about going into nature together, and made plans for camping together. For whatever reason, running away just doesn’t seem as appealing to him as it did to me. Maybe he’ll age into it.

As a story, I found that My Side dealt a lot more with Sam’s contact with people than I remembered (I actually didn’t remember these parts at all!), and less with the nitty-gritty of his survival. On the whole, though, I found that there was a good balance between the two.

I had also completely misremembered the ending – which I recall as being a traumatic ripping away from the mountain with police and such. I’m not sure why I remember it that way, or if I’m crossing memories of another book.The real ending, however, is much gentler.

This is a charming book with fairly good pacing. It’s also great for teaching kids that they are resilient and capable of being useful, despite their small bodies. Some aspects of it are a little dated, but not nearly as much as I would have thought.

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Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Read: 13 February, 2014

Shaman starts off quite slowly, and continues on in a very “slice of life” sort of way. I was about halfway through when a friend asked me what it was about, and I had no idea how to answer. As I put it then, I felt that Robinson was establishing the characters and the setting, but the actual plot hadn’t begun yet. I suppose that’s true, there is a Big Thing that takes up much of the second half of the novel, but I think it would be more accurate to say that the plot is simply very subtle and very slow.

The tone was quite different from Auel’s Earth’s Children series. While Auel writes of all the developments in human societies (often thanks to Ayla’s many inventions), Shaman is more aware of how tenuous knowledge can be in pre-literate societies. One untimely death, one forgetful apprentice, and hard-won knowledge can be lost forever – or at least until it’s rediscovered.

The same is true of life. In Earth’s Children, the people lived happily off the land. There were occasional floods, earthquakes, or other disasters, but generally the people were well-fed and established. This is quite different from the view in Shaman where the seasons can be identified by how starved individuals look, and every spring comes with the possibility of death.

Where both agreed – and I quite liked this – was in how problems could be solved. A trouble-maker can’t just be gotten rid of, raiders can’t just be slaughtered. Rather, people have to find ways to work together, to get around their differences and appease hurt feelings.

I really enjoyed Shaman, and it’s clear that Robinson is a very strong writer. I can see why someone who needs Stuff to be happening might feel bored, but I found that my interest was held through the many lulls by my interest in the writing.

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