Monday, July 13, 2015

Coming of Age Is Never Easy

Girl In The Woods
by Aspen Matis
384 pages
$13.99 Kindle version
Let me begin by stating that I do not believe a rape victim should be blamed or shamed at all. Period. I also do not believe that surviving a rape makes a woman stronger...the rape victims that I know personally happen to be strong women, but I know all too well how their rapes still affect them years later, and I wouldn't be stupid enough to tell them that they are better, stronger women because they were able to rebuild their lives after a rape.

I want to make it perfectly clear that any critical comments that I have about this book and/or author has NOTHING to do with the rape itself, although the rape is a big part of the reason the author decided to make this journey and write her memoir. However, I do not think her personal journey on the Pacific Coast Trail is limited to her healing process because of the sexual assault.

This is a coming of age memoir. This is a young woman sharing the painful process of growing up: establishing her boundaries in all of her relationships (especially with her mother) and learning to enforce those boundaries. She is not only discovering who she is, instead of measuring her value based on the opinions of others, but she is also learning to see herself with a new and healthier frame of mind. Unfortunately, she is, at times, her own worst enemy...some of her biggest obstacles, she creates herself.

As far as the writing style itself, I found it to be quite repetitive in many places. For example, throughout the book, she keeps brining up the fact that her mother was still dressing her (bra and all) into high school. Her mother's smothering and sheltering behavior was already well-established in the beginning, when the author describes what her life was like before the rape. She revisits the same dysfunctional themes over and over in the book, but I didn't really see much progression in her thought process or changes in her behavior until she had finally neared the end of her journey. And, even then, she still seemed to have missed the point of establishing her independence. (She seemed pretty dependent on Dash, considering how new that relationship is. It also bothered me that she has no problem with her parents spending vast amounts of money on her, but she doesn't want to be treated like child.)

I'm not sure how much of an influence the writing style had on my opinion of the author herself, but I feel she spends a great deal of time on the PCT being self-centered, self-destructive and she refuses to take responsibility for her decisions and actions, instead placing blame on everyone else around her, particularly her mother. The author often uses the behavior of others as an excuse to act out. Her binge drinking is a perfect example. She gets drunk several times, finds herself in compromising situations, even acknowledging that perhaps she shouldn't have been drinking at all, but it's always somehow the fault of everyone but her. I am not referring to the male hikers trying to take advantage of her, I am referring to the way she alienates everyone around her. She blames them, but doesn't take into consideration that maybe they didn't want to be around a girl who is so drunk, she is crawling around on the ground.

In another example, she runs out of water, nearly dies of dehydration, and, even though her mother isn't on the PCT with her, it's her mother's fault for babying her for so long. She knows that she should have refilled her water-bottles when she had the chance, but she doesn't accept full responsibility. And, instead of learning from that near-death experience, she makes the same mistake again when she runs out of food. She also blames her awkward interactions with other hikers on the hikers themselves, rather than admitting her own lack of socialization skills is most likely the source of friction. She is so judgmental of the other hikers, while complaining any time she feels someone is judging her, I wish I could find out what the other hikers had to say about their interactions with her.

On a more personal note: I think she might have gotten more out of her journey on the PCT if she had stayed sober. I know she sought help for the sexual assault, but I hope she was able to get her drinking under control. It seemed to be a huge crutch for her, as well as an obstacle to making real connections with other people.

Up until now, I've been calling her "the author," but I have a reason: her pen name is Aspen Matis, but that is not her given name in the beginning of her memoir. It seemed confusing at first, but I enjoyed the eventual explanation towards the end. I also appreciate the confidence she has in her writing, and I think that is the one thing she was absolutely correct about: she is a great author. Too bad it was so difficult to see beyond the self-centered martyr she made herself to be.

As always,

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