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Girl in the Woods: A Memoir

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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 asham 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.


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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 asham 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.

30 review for Girl in the Woods: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    This book has a lot of problems, but I'm intrigued by the story of thru-hiking women and that is what drew me to the book and kept me reading it. I'm surprised by the number of reviewers who thought this was better than Wild. Both women hiked the PCT trail alone following personal trauma (although Matis joined up with other hikers for much of her journey) but the similarities end there. Strayed took much longer to write her book after her hike and I think that was a good thing. Matis' book at ma This book has a lot of problems, but I'm intrigued by the story of thru-hiking women and that is what drew me to the book and kept me reading it. I'm surprised by the number of reviewers who thought this was better than Wild. Both women hiked the PCT trail alone following personal trauma (although Matis joined up with other hikers for much of her journey) but the similarities end there. Strayed took much longer to write her book after her hike and I think that was a good thing. Matis' book at many points reads like writing-as-therapy ramblings, and while she spends page after page saying the same self-congratulatory things over and over again, many of the more interesting events that happen (hiking through a forest fire, for example) are glossed over with only a few sentences. The book was too long, uneven, with a rushed and unclear ending. Matis exercised terrible judgment several times over, not learning from her mistakes but instead framing it as something admirable. She is lucky to have survived.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karen Adkins

    While Matis has real descriptive skill, I found this book irritating, and compares poorly to Wild (its progenitor). I'm deeply empathetic for what she suffered and why she decides to hike the PCT, and passages were really lovely to read, but she is so self-involved that the memoir part of this was the opposite of engaging, frankly veering into the range of bad self-help at times.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Mixed, mixed feelings. I'll start with the good: it was a page turner. I wanted to know what happened and neglected a day of work to get to the end. The descriptions of the trail angels and trail magic were just that: magic. (Although some people sounded seriously crazy and addicted to drugs/alcohol). The idea of walking the whole trail, from Mexico to Canada, was quite magical. She did a wonderful job conjuring the allure of the outdoors. She also did an excellent job discussing her rape, evolv Mixed, mixed feelings. I'll start with the good: it was a page turner. I wanted to know what happened and neglected a day of work to get to the end. The descriptions of the trail angels and trail magic were just that: magic. (Although some people sounded seriously crazy and addicted to drugs/alcohol). The idea of walking the whole trail, from Mexico to Canada, was quite magical. She did a wonderful job conjuring the allure of the outdoors. She also did an excellent job discussing her rape, evolving feelings towards what happened, and her treatment when she told people. I think her experience is unfortunately all too common and will give others strength when they see themselves reflected in her words. That's a great service, as is advocating for a rape advocacy network. Now to the problematic. First, I think the author's editors were seriously neglectful in their duties. The book needed both a structural edit and some serious copy editing. It was repetitive when it could have been profound and suspenseful. Second, the author was dishonest. Not in the discussion of her legitimate rape, but in the treatment of her parents and the narrative arc with her husband. She claims she was sheltered and yet the two years prior to this story she hiked 1000 miles alone. She tells this romantic story with her husband, and then if you read the acknowledgments they aren't even together! Bizarre. It didn't make sense! She claims she is hiking super light, but then we read in the acknowledgements she had books with her... Huh. Never mentioned those. Things were exaggerated and missing and the author was not honest. I think in part (the husband part) this had to do with her book contract, so again I partially blame the editors. But ultimately, it hurt the book. A book about rape, where integrity is always the central issue (UNFORTUNATELY) needs to show that integrity. The editors should have realized this! In addition, the author showed a complete lack of maturity in how she responded to men around her. For example, she hiked with a racist guy who disrespected her for hundreds of miles. Why? Because she couldn't identify that this guy was bad news and do something about it. Even when she's writing the book years later she doesn't really reflect on how racist this guy was! Crazy. And her big a-ha moments were not about growing into her mind or autonomy, but into her physical looks -- wearing make up and contacts. I understand that she was coming to terms with a serious violation, and that's legitimate, but it didn't connect back. Instead it seemed like vanity when it should have been about her autonomy and sense of self. I also found that she idolized very problematic men, while consistently blaming women. Her dad was neglectful and aloof, yet she finds way more fault with her mother and romanticizes her dad. Same with her brother. Same with idiot/offensive men on the trail. Same with Muir. It's all about men for the author. And the women (e.g. Silverfox) are damned. I don't know if that's competitiveness or what, but this was hardly a feminist book. What frustrates me is that I think this book was rushed and that the author had a lot of potential for a great story, both in terms of her rape, her growth as an individual, and the hike. She is an alright writer -- needs a good editor, though. An editor who honors truth and integrity while making prose sing. The book was still a page turner and interesting. If you love memoirs, stories about women and hiking, then it's worth it. Otherwise, not.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    I disliked this book. The author walked about 2,500 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. She comes across as self absorbed, immature, overly dependant, entitled and spoiled. She decided to walk after being raped on her second night at college and away from home which was a traumatizing experience. It is clear that she was emotionally damaged long before this. During her hike she is vitriolic towards her mother, and says she hopes her walk terrifies the mother, but often wi I disliked this book. The author walked about 2,500 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada. She comes across as self absorbed, immature, overly dependant, entitled and spoiled. She decided to walk after being raped on her second night at college and away from home which was a traumatizing experience. It is clear that she was emotionally damaged long before this. During her hike she is vitriolic towards her mother, and says she hopes her walk terrifies the mother, but often wishes she was there with her. she also blames her father and brother for not responding to her conversations and behaviour the way she would wish. During the hike her mother sends her expensive parcels at every stop along the way, provides her with equipment, plane tickets, money, a credit card, etc. Her father drives her to the starting point. It is clear that she was over protected, her mother dressing her until she was 16. This may be true, but it is evident that she was loved, and I got the impression that she would complain about any family in which she grew up. She whines about not being able to swallow vitamins or needed prescription pills, and being incapable of inserting contact lenses. She hates the need to wear glasses, and considers herself overweight and ugly. These repetitive thoughts interfere with the narrative. She begins the walk poorly equipped, takes unnecessary risks, but endures to the end of the very long hike. An impressive achievement. She is afraid to be around fellow hikers, but yearns for someone who 'gets her' and on whom she can depend to take care of her. She is afraid of groups of other hikers she encounters, and frequently runs off on her own. Some of her conversation and behaviour with others seems quite inappropriate. . Towards the end of the hike she meets a fellow traveler and falls in love. He tells her that she is beautiful and that she has great talent as a writer. Again, dependant on others to establish her self worth and take care of her. He also seems to do all the cooking. They later marry, but in the afterword they seem to be no longer together. As she walks she transforms herself from Debbie to Wild Child and finally to Aspen Matis, the writer. It is unclear how much she matured during the long hike, but she is convinced that there was a great transformation. I found the descriptions overwrought and the descriptions overly dramatic. The book seemed rushed and needed more editing in my opinion. It is recommended reading Wild instead.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan Shapiro

    As Aspen's writing teacher I'm not unbiased, since the book started with three beautiful short pieces in my class in the New York Times Modern Love column, Tin House and Psychology Today. At 25 years old, Aspen has done what many authors never achieve -she's written a gorgeous, honest, intense, serious and poignant memoir and published it with one of the best houses in the country. While I fear the knives will come out because of jealousy and her provocative subject matter (surviving date rape a As Aspen's writing teacher I'm not unbiased, since the book started with three beautiful short pieces in my class in the New York Times Modern Love column, Tin House and Psychology Today. At 25 years old, Aspen has done what many authors never achieve -she's written a gorgeous, honest, intense, serious and poignant memoir and published it with one of the best houses in the country. While I fear the knives will come out because of jealousy and her provocative subject matter (surviving date rape at college), I'm glad that luminaries like Nicholas Kristof and such published memoirists Lena Dunham, Cheryl Strayed, Alice Feiring, Gabrielle Selz and Abby Sher have already weighed in our Aspen's clear gift and impressive poetic talent. I hope everyone reads this brave book -a young WILD - to see for themselves what all the controversy is about.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    I'm going to give this 2.5 stars. It had an intriguing premise and I did enjoy reading about the actual PCT hike, but the writing was redundant and heavy-handed. Though I respect her motives and her courage to be so open about her rape, the author was spoiled and unlikeable throughout most of the book. However, she must have done something right because I wanted to know what would happen to her and kept reading until the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gydle

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. While there's no doubt that Aspen Matis is a very talented young writer, I found myself extremely irritated with her for most of this book. There are so many things that don't make sense that I wonder how much of it is really true. How, if her mother is such a helicopter that she can't even dress herself, did she manage to get away for monhts in the summer before college to hike the JMT? That's mentioned almost like an afterthought, but it's hugely important! My immediate reaction was that she w While there's no doubt that Aspen Matis is a very talented young writer, I found myself extremely irritated with her for most of this book. There are so many things that don't make sense that I wonder how much of it is really true. How, if her mother is such a helicopter that she can't even dress herself, did she manage to get away for monhts in the summer before college to hike the JMT? That's mentioned almost like an afterthought, but it's hugely important! My immediate reaction was that she was overdramatizing her relationship with her mother to make the story more compelling. She makes it sound as if she has never done anything for herself, but obviously, she has. It's not like she's taking on the PCT without a good amount of experience with long trails, and yet she STILL makes terrible decisions and puts her life in danger. She quotes herself interacting with her mother, and it made me cringe - she comes across as terribly self-indulgent and rude. Her mother doesn't have the reaction to the news of the rape that Aspen (or shall I say Debbie?) is wanting and needing, but thank God by the end of her harrowing hike she finally realizes that the world doesn't revolve around her and that her mother, too, has her own issues that are reflected in the way she has mothered Debbie. She comes across as both needy and whiny, eviscerating her parents with criticism, while at the same time depending completely on them for financial and logistical support. The good thing about the book is that there are moments of excellent writing - descriptions of the trail, the wilderness, and her increasing capacity to self-reflect on the choices she is making. But I was deeply disappointed in the ending. Even though she has spent the better part of the book analyzing her feelings about sex and her various dysfunctional relationships, at the end, she hasn't in my opinion reached a point of self-awareness that doesn't involve dependence, both emotional and financial. She needs to feel pretty and smart, as reflected in the eyes of a man. She's never not had a financial safety net. That's fine, it's a stage in life. Yes, she's young. But the end, that relationship with Dash? The vodka in the hotel room? They were supposedly deeply in love, but he leaves her behind to hike the last part of the trail, apparently with no communication (she gets to the bus stop and he's just GONE?) What's that all about? And in the epilogue I read that he's gone for months to do another long thru-hike? Obviously, this story is just beginning.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mindy

    DNF @ 30% I can't be in this person's head one more minute. I have a huge fascination with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and even though I wasn't enjoying the writing, I thought the hiking would carry me through. Well, I was wrong. It wasn't enough. I just can't go on. Really a bummer because I had picked this for a challenge and now I can't use it. Grrrrrrr!!!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    Bravely and poignantly written, this important memoir beautifully depicts Aspen Matis' journey from utter recklessness to salvation. Thanks to Goodreads' First Reads for the review copy. This was my unsolicited review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Debi G.

    It's a challenge to find a well-written trail narrative. This one is better than most, though a proofreader would certainly have helped. More on that later. It's unusual for people to change their names, yet both this author and PCT hiker Cheryl Strayed did so. The similarities end there, however, and it's particularly interesting how different--how much more populated-- Aspen Matis' trail experience is from Cheryl Strayed's and others. It's both exciting and alarming to read about the weather, It's a challenge to find a well-written trail narrative. This one is better than most, though a proofreader would certainly have helped. More on that later. It's unusual for people to change their names, yet both this author and PCT hiker Cheryl Strayed did so. The similarities end there, however, and it's particularly interesting how different--how much more populated-- Aspen Matis' trail experience is from Cheryl Strayed's and others. It's both exciting and alarming to read about the weather, food, and footing risks that Aspen Matis took. I frequently wondered what I'd have done in her place, which makes for enjoyable reading. Readers get to know few of the people encountered on the hike, and those who are fully drawn are distasteful. Because of this, the information about other hikers is more problematic than magnetic. (I despise Edison and cannot believe she consented to be in his presence as long as she did.) By the end, the author achieves her quest for peace and a fuller sense of self. She comes to understand her parents' motivations and to accept their quirks. (I know we're all just doing the best we can, but the over-mothering leaves me incredulous; what a disservice to deliberately incapacitate a child under the guise of care.) Valid as it is, the emotional journey of this book does not entice attention as well as details about the trail, the logistics, and the navigation. Somehow, I'm more intrigued by tiny bits of mysterious information dropped in the acknowledgements than I was by the rest of the book. (Mystic's death, Justin's disappearance) I also would have liked to learn more about her childhood backpacking excursions, to fully appreciate the role that hiking played throughout her formative years and adolescence. I realize that by picking on a book's errors, I open myself to scrutiny, but that's not going to stop me. Examples of my proofreading and editing concerns include pages 330-331, on which four novels are mentioned by title. Three of the titles are placed in quotation marks (one mark is missing) and the fourth is properly italicized. Such inconsistencies are common in this book, though most have to do with comma errors. Problems of unclear meaning and awkward construction often turned my reading pace sluggish as I slogged through clunky, cumbersome sentences like this one until I was able to parse it: "Inside the odd young hippie lounged--people about my age, everyone from Germany and Korea, the Netherlands and Prague" (241). (Lynne Truss, have at it!) It's difficult to critique a memoir or travelogue without falling into the error of judging the writer. Aspen Matis seems like a lovely person (with or without "thick glasses") with much to offer. She shows promise, but linguistic inexperience and lack of education are apparent.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    "Girl in the Woods" is a memoir by Aspen Mattis, a girl who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself after she is raped on the second day at college. Her rape sends her into a tailspin, which is easily understandable. She feels like there has to be something that she can do it in order to feel like herself and feel safe again. She decides that a trip on the PCT it is the best way to do that. I love hiking but the thought of hiking that much is incredibly daunting to me. Aspen goes into "Girl in the Woods" is a memoir by Aspen Mattis, a girl who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself after she is raped on the second day at college. Her rape sends her into a tailspin, which is easily understandable. She feels like there has to be something that she can do it in order to feel like herself and feel safe again. She decides that a trip on the PCT it is the best way to do that. I love hiking but the thought of hiking that much is incredibly daunting to me. Aspen goes into a lot of detail about the reasons that she decided that it was best for her to step away from college and try to hike from Mexico all the way up to Canada. This is a story about picking up the pieces and finding yourself. I love memoirs especially when they are written by people who do things that I could never never fathom doing in my own life. I love to live vicariously through those authors. This is definitely one of those books where you do live vicariously through the author because they give so much detail about everything that they have to face on this journey. This book in a lot of ways reminded me of "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, another one of my favorite books. Aspen is definitely running from a lot of different things when she takes on her hike but the hike helps her come to terms with some of the more difficult things she had to face in her short time at college. I liked how honest she was with the reader. You feel as if you are reading somebody that you know's innermost thoughts and they are holding nothing back. This is definitely an extreme version of someone trying to find themselves and I don't think that the way that Aspen does it is necessarily going to be for everyone but this is such an important book for anyone who has gone through something where they think that they're never going to recover. I read it very quickly because I could not tear myself away from the pages. This was a great memoir and I definitely recommend it to readers looking for a good adventure story and a story of redemption!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Smith

    I've taken my time reading this book, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because it gave me much to think over after each session. It's not the best written book, nor is Aspen/Debbie immune to the flaw of getting on your nerves at times. But when you reach the end of this book, you reach a place of understanding that only comes from the most honest of writers. Within the pages of this memoir, Aspen opens herself up to the harshest of scrutiny, and it's to be nothing but admired. It's not unti I've taken my time reading this book, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because it gave me much to think over after each session. It's not the best written book, nor is Aspen/Debbie immune to the flaw of getting on your nerves at times. But when you reach the end of this book, you reach a place of understanding that only comes from the most honest of writers. Within the pages of this memoir, Aspen opens herself up to the harshest of scrutiny, and it's to be nothing but admired. It's not until the end of this book that you realise the enormity of the story you've just read. This girl walked from Mexico to Canada, often times alone, in a journey of self discovery. The place she arrives at when she finishes is different even from what she envisaged, and that's what makes this book so good. This is not a story told in hindsight. It's a story that unfolds, changes, changes again, and then again. I am absolutely stunned by the fact that people walk this type of journey all the time. I can hardly comprehend that. The generosity of those who help these hikers all along the way is humbling; just incredible. Overall, this an excellent memoir. I would have liked a little more clarity on some of the details of her life post walk, but other than that, I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aspen Matis

    Changed my life. ;) Although of course I'm biased.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile

    4.5 stars. Gorgeous, different memoir of a girl hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I've read probably dozens of nature memoirs (I have a huge thing for them), but what I loved about this was that it managed to focus on both the journey, and also the REASON for the journey. They twined together effortlessly, and never once seemed tedious or self-indulgent in any way. As an outsider, I could see what was strange and different about her life experiences and relationships, but it was so neat to watch h 4.5 stars. Gorgeous, different memoir of a girl hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I've read probably dozens of nature memoirs (I have a huge thing for them), but what I loved about this was that it managed to focus on both the journey, and also the REASON for the journey. They twined together effortlessly, and never once seemed tedious or self-indulgent in any way. As an outsider, I could see what was strange and different about her life experiences and relationships, but it was so neat to watch her get to that point of realizing the things I could already see. Aspen Matis is a natural-born author, and has more talent than many mainstream authors have after decades of writing. I can't wait to read the novel she is working on, and hopefully find out more about Dash and the mystery there.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    Possibly a coming of age story but Aspen Matis has a lot of growing up left to do. She has writing potential but I found this story totally depressing. As a parent of young adults I was overwhelmed by this woman's total lack of life skills and her naivety but even more by her selfishness and stupidity. She exhibited a total lack of judgement and common sense. Setting out on the journey , whatever impelled her , totally lacking in preparedness was dangerous and just plain stupid. It's not as thou Possibly a coming of age story but Aspen Matis has a lot of growing up left to do. She has writing potential but I found this story totally depressing. As a parent of young adults I was overwhelmed by this woman's total lack of life skills and her naivety but even more by her selfishness and stupidity. She exhibited a total lack of judgement and common sense. Setting out on the journey , whatever impelled her , totally lacking in preparedness was dangerous and just plain stupid. It's not as though she lacked hiking experience . For the previous two summers she states she had hiked parts of the same trail. I finished the book trying hard not to compare it to "Wild". If it had Not been my Book Clubs Choice for this month I would have put it down and not bothered to finish it .

  16. 4 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    3.5. I felt the author did a good job of telling why she chose to go the extended Mexico to Canada hike and what she hoped to get from it and feels she actually did. I liked her style of telling about her time on the trail, stayed up all night reading to see what happened next. A worthwhile read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Esther Bradley-detally

    I couldn't put it down, and I had the vague recollection I had read parts of it before. I don't think her mother was overbearing, but she overcompensated as so many mothers have for generations. I think the author did not whine (you can tell i've skipped thru some reviews), but she was social inadept and overprotected. that is not a war crime. She wrote a good book. She had tremendous courage, and her relationship was interesting. I felt towards the end; is this all true; but still spunky young I couldn't put it down, and I had the vague recollection I had read parts of it before. I don't think her mother was overbearing, but she overcompensated as so many mothers have for generations. I think the author did not whine (you can tell i've skipped thru some reviews), but she was social inadept and overprotected. that is not a war crime. She wrote a good book. She had tremendous courage, and her relationship was interesting. I felt towards the end; is this all true; but still spunky young girl; good writer. Sure Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild; but there's a lot of room int he world for books by people who have had traumatic events and overcome them. i won't go on, but I will read her next book with great interest and i wish the author well!

  18. 5 out of 5

    TK

    A much better memoir than WILD. Much like Cheryl Strayed, Aspen Matis sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to heal herself, to grow stronger, and to become unafraid. When I read WILD, I was never truly convinced of the author's transformation or personal growth, but in GIRL IN THE WOODS, I am thoroughly convinced that this woman walked through her fears and her character defects to emerge in Canada a more mature and capable person. Matis's writing is beautiful, she clearly adores th A much better memoir than WILD. Much like Cheryl Strayed, Aspen Matis sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to heal herself, to grow stronger, and to become unafraid. When I read WILD, I was never truly convinced of the author's transformation or personal growth, but in GIRL IN THE WOODS, I am thoroughly convinced that this woman walked through her fears and her character defects to emerge in Canada a more mature and capable person. Matis's writing is beautiful, she clearly adores the trail, and I admire her determination to hike the trail in its entirety despite sickness and inclement weather. I am glad I read this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lux

    This is a story of adventure and healing told with stunning clarity. Aspen Matis writes in harrowing detail of being raped on her second night of college and then, in unflinching prose, tells the story of her walk from Mexico to Canada — nineteen years old, a girl alone in the woods. What I loved most about this memoir was the author’s incredible honesty. She doesn’t tailor her story to look like a saint, which is likely why a few people have criticized her book. But if, like me, you see beauty This is a story of adventure and healing told with stunning clarity. Aspen Matis writes in harrowing detail of being raped on her second night of college and then, in unflinching prose, tells the story of her walk from Mexico to Canada — nineteen years old, a girl alone in the woods. What I loved most about this memoir was the author’s incredible honesty. She doesn’t tailor her story to look like a saint, which is likely why a few people have criticized her book. But if, like me, you see beauty in truth, then you’ll love this memoir. Be prepared to hold your breath throughout it— I laughed, I cried—it’s a wild tale, told gorgeously.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Wynne Kontos

    This memoir wasn't good. But I was rooting for it. Because "Wild" has been such an important book to me, I was intrigued by the premise of Aspen Matis' personal journey and how the trail helped to heal her. Matis' journey is very different than Cheryl Strayed's. Really the only similarity is that they both used the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to reclaim their bodies and their sense of independence. But their motivations, their family experiences, who they are as women and where they were in thei This memoir wasn't good. But I was rooting for it. Because "Wild" has been such an important book to me, I was intrigued by the premise of Aspen Matis' personal journey and how the trail helped to heal her. Matis' journey is very different than Cheryl Strayed's. Really the only similarity is that they both used the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to reclaim their bodies and their sense of independence. But their motivations, their family experiences, who they are as women and where they were in their lives are very different. Matis grew up in a wealthy New York suburb with two brothers and two very loving, but abusive parents. I'll say it. Just because Matis' mother and father didn't verbally or physically abuse her doesn't mean they didn't stifle, harm and emotionally hurt their daughter. Matis' mother's anxiety, among other mental health problems, made it nearly impossible for her daughter to gain any sense of independence or sense of self. Her father stood by and did nothing to intervene, and is guilty in my eyes by his lack of action. When Matis enters college she's eager to reclaim a sense of herself she could never have in her parents home. So many young people walk the same path in college: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Sadly, Matis is unable to answer this question when she is raped just a couple days into her freshman year. When she attempts to tell her family they are so unprepared for the news and what it means to their daughter's life in every aspect, that they reject her. So un-tethered to the earth after her assault, Matis decides to leave school and hike the PCT. Her parents don't want her to, but they don't forbid her. And they agree to fund it entirely. That's where I began to not related to Matis' story. Once she started hiking the trail she became incredibly unlikable to me. I don't need every person I read about, whether real or a character, to be just like me. In fact, I much prefer the opposite. Isn't that why we read to begin with? But Matis' narrative reads repetitive. There's little to no depth. She begins to blame her parents rather than explore them. She makes incredibly stupid decisions about her personal safety. She spends a majority of the time RUNNING the trail. I don't know why that irritated me, superficial reasons I'm sure. But the image of this awkward (as Matis describes over and over and over again just how awkward she is) running on an uneven hiking trail through the mountains with this little back pack made me want to scream! What kept "Wild" enjoyable in both content and pacing was there was never a full focus on life before the trail and the actual trail. Strayed switched back and forth. This is necessary I know now, because Matis didn't do this. The reality is the trail just doesn't change enough in it's desolation or beauty to make it interesting for 350 pages. Neither do Matis' inner musings on her life, self and her parents. It's repetitive and uninteresting as I already stated (no pun intended). There were moments of beauty in Matis' writing, especially when she let us into her views of nature. The PCT certainly seems like a beautiful experience. And it was interesting to read how different an experience Matis had in the 2000s with cellphones and the internet than Strayed had in the 90s. The secret certainly seems out about the PCT, since Matis spent large chunks of her hike with lots and lots of people. But Matis is in her early twenties when she experienced this journey and her assault, years have barely passed since these events and her memoir is already on the shelves. It suffers because of it. There's no reflection. No objectivity. No deeper understanding. And not because Matis isn't capable of reaching those places as a writer, but because she hasn't reached them as a person. How could she? A full five years has barely gone by (if it has at all) since she's experienced these events. I know I'm a different person in the five years since I moved to NYC, got a Master's degree, worked three jobs, moved to two apartments, fell in and out of relationships. But I'm just starting to have a clarity and growth on this stage of my life. Many events FEEL big, because I'm only 27. Men I've known for almost a decade become that much more important because a decade is nearly half my life. But when I'm forty, a decade won't mean as much. And when I'm 80 it will barely mean anything at all. I would love to watch Matis' clear talent for writing marinade for a few more years and allow her clarity to grow on what she's experienced in her life before she starts waxing poetic about it. I look forward to watching her mature as a creative and I hope she takes her time next time around.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica McCann

    This was a tough book to rate. The 4 stars are for this young woman’s bravery in speaking out about her rape, refusing to hide what happened or to be shamed by it. The 4 stars are also for Matis’ amazing talent as a writer. Her descriptions of the changing landscape and climates along the PCT are phenomenal and immersive. I also really connected to her interpretation of how important it is to her health and emotional well-being to walk in nature. To use the adjective she used in the book, Matis This was a tough book to rate. The 4 stars are for this young woman’s bravery in speaking out about her rape, refusing to hide what happened or to be shamed by it. The 4 stars are also for Matis’ amazing talent as a writer. Her descriptions of the changing landscape and climates along the PCT are phenomenal and immersive. I also really connected to her interpretation of how important it is to her health and emotional well-being to walk in nature. To use the adjective she used in the book, Matis is indeed an f’ing writer. As a memoir, however, this book fell short for me. When I read a memoir, I’m expecting the author to shed new light on something monumental in her life and to share something meaningful that she learned from the experience. GIRL IN THE WOODS never quite hits that mark. It is a narrative of a young woman who really hasn’t yet learned what she needs to learn -- about a traumatic event, and about herself in a much broader sense. It is told through the self-focused prism of “absolutes” that is common for a person in her late-teens to early 20s (that’s not a slight, it’s a biological reality; we have all been there). While that does provide interesting psychological insight in-and-of itself, I found it frustrating to read. While Matis mentions many of the thru-hikers and trail angels she encountered during her five-month 2,700-mile trek, she doesn’t really seem to think about or explore who they are as people or what compels them to do the things they do. In neglecting that opportunity, she short-changed herself and her readers of something that could have been truly enlightening. I found myself wishing she had waited a few years before publishing, had allowed herself to gain the kind of perspective only time can provide. My hope is that Matis continues to grow as a woman and a writer, and continues to reflect upon and examine her journey and keep learning from it. I look forward to reading her future work for that reason.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Renato

    4 stars: 3 for the memoirist, 5 for the PCT I will have to be honest here, I found myself disliking Debby Parker for the bulk of the book: yes- she is merely 19 years old yes- her confidence in herself and in trusting others has been dealt a fatal blow as a result of her sexual assault and the institution's poor treatment of her case (but also as a result of her 'helicoptering mother') but you pick up a book like this to read about how a subject rises above all of that adversity and grows as a resul 4 stars: 3 for the memoirist, 5 for the PCT I will have to be honest here, I found myself disliking Debby Parker for the bulk of the book: yes- she is merely 19 years old yes- her confidence in herself and in trusting others has been dealt a fatal blow as a result of her sexual assault and the institution's poor treatment of her case (but also as a result of her 'helicoptering mother') but you pick up a book like this to read about how a subject rises above all of that adversity and grows as a result of it...and I didn't feel that it was going to happen (for the bulk of the book) I found myself marking passages in the book, thinking to myself "You thankless, CHILD" as she flip-flops on the sort of relationships she negotiates throughout the book (be they relationships of an amorous, communal or mentoring nature). She also seems to constantly flounder on the purpose of her trek, and on the sort of person she wants to transform into after its completion. BUT: much like the little miracles one discovers on the PCT, the Girl in the Woods also has a bit of its own 'trail magic'. It comes out of nowhere and it almost makes up for the 300+ pages of self-loathing and self-pitying. My thoughts on 'Debby Parker' aside, it is a BEAUTIFULLY descriptive book; she seems to evoke Thoreau as she paints mental Polaroids of her personal experience hiking the PCT. I recall a specific passage catching me with my heart in my throat (for those who have read it...just after meeting the 2 Canadians). Despite my initial vitriol with the 19 year old Debby, I would still highly recommend the book and implore any curious reader to stick with it until the end!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lorrie

    I didn't know what to think when I started reading this book. Some of the reviews were good but some friends weren't really crazy about it. As I began reading about the mother over protecting the daughter (doing essentially everything for her to the point where the girl couldn't even comb her own hair), I feared I had made a grave mistake in starting this book. Then I quickly found that I couldn't put the book down. 70% of it I finished on the final day of reading. The first 30% was just before I didn't know what to think when I started reading this book. Some of the reviews were good but some friends weren't really crazy about it. As I began reading about the mother over protecting the daughter (doing essentially everything for her to the point where the girl couldn't even comb her own hair), I feared I had made a grave mistake in starting this book. Then I quickly found that I couldn't put the book down. 70% of it I finished on the final day of reading. The first 30% was just before sleep. Being a walker, I loved the story itself. I slept on this review and book last nite & just couldn't get it out of my head. Oh, how I wish I had heard of the PCT when I was younger. I'm lifting the score to a 5. It deserves it in my personal opinion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sabine

    I listened to the audio version of the book during my trail runs. I enjoyed the through hike of the PCT trail from Mexico to Canada but found some of the other parts to be very repetitive and frustrating. It was a page turner but comes with a grain of salt....

  25. 5 out of 5

    Igrowastreesgrow

    Will update later.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Burke

    It's interesting how much I could relate to Aspen Matis while reading this book. (Keep in mind a huge chunk of this will be about me to get to my point. Or try to anyway). ***Potentially triggering*** Growing up, my mother always took care of me which is amazing and I love her for it, but as I got older she was still doing things like picking out my clothes for me, brushing my hair, etc. When I was young, my shoelace came untied and I had no idea how to re-tie it. My teacher ended up having one It's interesting how much I could relate to Aspen Matis while reading this book. (Keep in mind a huge chunk of this will be about me to get to my point. Or try to anyway). ***Potentially triggering*** Growing up, my mother always took care of me which is amazing and I love her for it, but as I got older she was still doing things like picking out my clothes for me, brushing my hair, etc. When I was young, my shoelace came untied and I had no idea how to re-tie it. My teacher ended up having one of the other students tie my shoe which was so embarrassing. And up until I was 14(? I think) I had no idea how to put my hair up in a ponytail. If it came undone at school I had no idea how to fix it, and my hair has always been really thick and it's all puffy/tangled if I wear it out so I hated not having it in a ponytail. When I was old enough to start shaving... well okay, no, first of all when all the other girls started shaving, I still wasn't which people thought was funny. When I DID finally start, my mom was shaving my legs for me. Finally when I was in high school I managed to convince her to let me take care of myself a little bit. She did. To this day I'm still not sure why she did all of that. She was very strict too and wouldn't let me do things like hang out with friends for a few hours after school or have sleepovers, etc. I think she was just being protective and not realizing that she was OVER-protective. (I'm making her sound like a bad person. She's not. Honestly I think she's the most amazing woman on the planet - she's kind, generous and loving and I'm 100000% happy that she's my mom. She just took care of me a little too well sometimes.) By the way, I've never talked about this but Aspen proved that you can grow up into your own person and that you really shouldn't be ashamed of your past - so here it is and out goes my shame. (Thank you Aspen) I too was raped, when I was 20. I was in a psych ward because of depression and self-harm. The nurses, etc. do "checks" every 15-20 minutes to see how everyone's doing. When a male and female are in a room alone together, someone is supposed to be supervising constantly. Emphasis on "supposed to be" seeing as that didn't happen and they weren't even doing the checks as often as they should. So the guy who was in the room with me started taking advantage of me and I had no idea what to do so -sort of similar to Aspen - I kissed back (and a few other things that I won't go into detail about) hoping that if I gave him just a little bit of what he wanted he'd leave me alone after. He didn't. Just like Aspen, I was basically told that it didn't happen. When the police got involved, the guy who did it literally told them that something happened "but that [I] wanted it" and yet no one believed anything happened. I was yelled at by the nurses and treated like a delusional child by the police officers. I've hated myself and felt dirty since then, and honestly still blame myself. I get it. I get what it's like to not know how to be your own person. I get what it's like to be told you're lying (especially about the most traumatizing thing in life). I get what it's like to hate your body, and how that gets so much worse after a sexual assault. And how sex doesn't feel good/right after that - the few times it happened for me anyway. I get what it's like to just not feel capable of doing certain things. I get it. But I also get that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." For Aspen, that was taken literally (and she later finds out that by doing so, she was also taking a huge step emotionally/mentally). Aspen did an amazing job with this book. Yes, I completely understood how she felt because I'd been through some of the same things. But for anyone who hasn't, she manages to describe things in a way that anyone can understand. Well okay, obviously not fully because it's much different to read about it than it is to go through it but she still paints a very good picture. In "Girl In The Woods" she let us into her mind, into the darkest corners that most people don't let see the light of day. She describes her journey so well and you find yourself cheering her on. This is the kind of book that you end up feeling a strong connection to the author because of how open, honest and real it is. In my third book, "The Darkness And The Light" I tried to create that connection. To let the reader feel what I feel (uh not literally, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but you get the idea). And while I feel like at some points I succeeded, I don't think I captured life in the same way Aspen did. And I admire her for doing so in such a great way. So, my long and rambling point to all of this is basically that Aspen Matis is an amazing writer. That she teaches you to try, to take control of your life and yourself, to make yourself your first priority. That she's so strong and encourages you to find that same strength within yourself. Oh, and that you really need to read this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sara Strand

    I know, the first thing you are going to say is, "Sara. Come on now, Cheryl Strayed did this with Wild and it was so good they made it into a movie" and I'm going to tell you SHUT UP. I say that because I fully understand why Wild was as popular as it was and that's because it came at a time where us card carrying vaginas needed a woman to show us what being a true adventuring, independent woman was. Unfortunately, I really hated that book because Cheryl wasn't like-able. Just a series of terrib I know, the first thing you are going to say is, "Sara. Come on now, Cheryl Strayed did this with Wild and it was so good they made it into a movie" and I'm going to tell you SHUT UP. I say that because I fully understand why Wild was as popular as it was and that's because it came at a time where us card carrying vaginas needed a woman to show us what being a true adventuring, independent woman was. Unfortunately, I really hated that book because Cheryl wasn't like-able. Just a series of terrible choices because her mom died. I mean, I get it, your mom dies and that's awful but to leave a really great guy for a drug addled loser and then hike off into the woods and be fully shocked at how hard life is? Shut up and move over. Here we have Aspen, who growing up as Debby really struggled. Her parents loved her but they didn't parent her well. Her two older brothers had it better but her mother treated her as a mute. Not just a mute but a mute fully incapable of caring herself. A passage close to the front of the book reads, "Through middle school, I didn't shave my legs or use deodorant. Girls began to ask about my hairy legs. One day in eighth grade, I found deodorant in my locker with a note written in girlish handwriting, unsigned. It told me I smelled. It was true. I was hurt. But after that I still didn't simply commit to wearing deodorant daily, instead passively subjecting myself to adolescent years of whispered disdain. Basic hygiene was a terrible struggle. Anything my mother didn't do for me, I didn't do for myself." She goes on about how she wasn't allowed to dress herself and any attempt to do something on her own was shut down immediately by her mother who, for whatever reason, wanted to control literally every aspect of Debby's life. When it comes time to go to college, Debby picks Colorado College. Far away enough from home but in the woods she loved as child. She sees it as a fresh start, finally free of the oppressive home that held her back. She remembers how her parents met- on the second night of college, and she holds this is a fairy tale of sorts. But for her, the second night of college turns her into a rape victim. Not just a rape victim, but one who questions herself, who is let down by the college and even worse- shamed by her own family. She reaches out to her mother who gives her icy silence and treats it as nothing. She reaches out to her brother, the one she's closest to, and he asks her what she had done to bring it on basically. Stunned and frozen, she decides that she is going to drop out of college and hike. She has big plans to hike the PCT and be a thru-hiker (one end to the other) and she is looking at The Kickoff as a new beginning. Like the first night of college. She wants to find herself and be more. Her parents reluctantly agree to help her financially though it's obvious they have little faith that she'll make it very far. One of my favorite passages reads, "Looking into my reflection above the sink, I dreaded what I already understood to be true: I wouldn't reinvent myself at Kickoff. Just being some place new couldn't just suddenly imbue me with new confidence. Fleeing to the desert didn't transform me into the poised and lovely woman I wished I were. I was here- on the PCT at last- and I was suddenly aware of how uncomfortable I still was in my body. I was awkward in Newton and at college, and here on the trail I remained just as uncool. This place wouldn't change me. Nowhere could." Amen. Seriously. She figures this out at the very beginning of her hike and this is something a normal person (looking at you, Cheryl Strayed) doesn't figure out until some mid way point in the hike. So much of this book spoke to me because I get it, I felt like I really understood the author. She was so much easier to relate to. She was more of an average 19 year old girl setting off on an impossible journey and I found myself rooting for her. Don't even get me started on how damn happy I was when Dash comes along. But I won't go into that because it ruins the ending for you. But Debby is DAMN LUCKY to have survived because shortly before Oregon she gets a weird infection, thinks it's no big deal. She reluctantly has to go home to have it taken care of and as it turns out, it could have been fatal. But it's that trip home that reminds her of what she left behind. Her overbearing mother suffocating her. She does return to the trail because she is adamant she will finish and I was thrilled. So much of this book is absolutely amazing. It is far and above, a thousand times better than Wild. It just is. I know I'm in the minority on my dislike for Wild but whatever. I just really enjoyed this book. I also have to say, I learned far more about the PCT from this book versus Wild so there is that as well. It almost makes me want to hike it. BUT, let's be real, I'm pro nachos and ice cream. I would never make it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Raven Haired Girl

    I gotta say Aspen is one inspiring and courageous woman. Her mettle was unfortunately tested and she accepted the test with extreme grace and poise. I was impressed with this young lady, and I was thrilled her story ended as a happily ever after. A true survivor, a woman overcoming trauma with even more strength than she knew she possessed. No doubt whatever obstacles head towards Aspen she will triumph. Aspen was very self-aware for your average 19-year-old. She wants more than being coddled by I gotta say Aspen is one inspiring and courageous woman. Her mettle was unfortunately tested and she accepted the test with extreme grace and poise. I was impressed with this young lady, and I was thrilled her story ended as a happily ever after. A true survivor, a woman overcoming trauma with even more strength than she knew she possessed. No doubt whatever obstacles head towards Aspen she will triumph. Aspen was very self-aware for your average 19-year-old. She wants more than being coddled by her intrusive mother. Thank goodness she realized there was more out there, that she was more and was determined to find who she was and her own way. I was shocked by her parents/family pathetic reaction to her rape, I was blown away by their behavior. Her self-worth already teetering was pushed even farther to the brink. The absence of compassion and support was heartbreaking, explaining why Aspen’s hike was even more paramount. Topping it off was the school’s reaction as well, we begin to understand Aspen’s need to conquer the rugged terrain as the victor. Yes, she made a few questionable choices out in the wild but she’s 19 years old and it’s all part of owning who you are. Luckily she learned from her errors and she remained relatively safe. I still can’t believe this young woman ventured off solo into such desolate space with a majority of her unknown hiking peers being male. She wanted to rid herself of her rape demons and boy what a gutsy way to reclaim your space. Girl power and bravery beyond belief! My body ached reading Aspen’s story, this is one tough woman mentally, physically and emotionally. I had no doubt Aspen would more than succeed in her mighty trek, she served as an inspiration and I admire her tremendously. I only wish her mammoth hike was initiated under uplifting circumstances. I’m sure Aspen reflects on these early years and sighs in wonderment and disbelief, when the worst has happened everything else is a walk in the park. Visit Raven Haired Girl for more reviews & giveaways

  29. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    This is something of a young adult version of Cheryl Strayed's "Wild". The author, Debby Parker, (aka Aspen Matis) was raised in a completely sheltered environment of wealth by two Harvard Law school graduates, in Newton, Mass. Her mother actually dressed her through her high school years and I don't mean she picked out her clothes: she dressed her like a doll from top to bottom. So weird! If the author can be believed, when she went to sleep-away camp in fourth grade, she didn't take a shower, This is something of a young adult version of Cheryl Strayed's "Wild". The author, Debby Parker, (aka Aspen Matis) was raised in a completely sheltered environment of wealth by two Harvard Law school graduates, in Newton, Mass. Her mother actually dressed her through her high school years and I don't mean she picked out her clothes: she dressed her like a doll from top to bottom. So weird! If the author can be believed, when she went to sleep-away camp in fourth grade, she didn't take a shower, wash her hair or change her clothes for an entire month because she didn't know how to. When Debbie goes to college in Colorado, she is date-raped on the first night. This leads to an understandingly traumatic first year of college. Before the year ends, she drops out and decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail and herein lies the story. It's a good story and well told though it could have/should have been edited and streamlined. Still, I liked her honesty and her self-absorption:it makes the book more genuine. Plus, it's hard not to be impressed by anyone describing this incredible journey. She was hiking 20-30 miles per day at times and it just amazes me that anyone could do that without a gun to the head. One thing I learned from this book that I didn't know before is that there are many people called trail angels who take in the thru-hikers and feed them and let them take showers and launder their clothes and sleep in relative comfort at various points along the trail.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Chance

    Nineteen years old, confused, traumatized, and searching to find the person she is meant to be - Aspen Matis decides to take off on a personal journey that involves walking from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles on foot. Along the way Matis learns many things, including how to trust again, how to become at ease with herself and how face the future with hope. This is a powerful memoir that follows Matis from spoiled rich kid to her traumatic experienc Nineteen years old, confused, traumatized, and searching to find the person she is meant to be - Aspen Matis decides to take off on a personal journey that involves walking from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles on foot. Along the way Matis learns many things, including how to trust again, how to become at ease with herself and how face the future with hope. This is a powerful memoir that follows Matis from spoiled rich kid to her traumatic experience in college to matured young adult woman who could come to reckoning with her demons and truly begin to be happy with her life. Matis' story is at time very graphic, and there are times that the reader might want to shake the girl she was. But there are also moments of celebration as the reader can see the progress Matis took along her journey. Matis proves that she is a talented storyteller with "Girl In The Woods." Her writing is full of emotion and her descriptive account of her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail is fascinating. There are some comparisons to Cheryl Strayd's book, "Wild," which is also a story of a woman's journey along the PCT, but Matis' tale is uniquely hers and hers alone. I think anyone who has taken this trip will have their own story to tell, and Matis does so with a great deal of grace and forgiveness. This memoir is appropriate for young adult readers and those who are interested in strong female-led stories.

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