My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

My side of the mountain cover imageSummary: A young teen decides to escape his overcrowded NYC apartment and move to some family land in the Catskill Mountains. 

My children have not yet adopted my love of reading. I have started reading to them as we drive and am trying to find books I think they may enjoy. We are currently reading Anne of Green Gables, which they enjoy, but it has such long passages of flowery descriptive language. I picked up My Side of the Mountain recently when it was on sale and decided to read it to refresh my memory. I read it as a pre-teen, but I don’t think I read it more than once or twice and not more recently than 35 years ago.

My Side of the Mountain follows Sam Gribley and his attempt to live on his own in the wilderness of the Catskills Mountains. He is living on abandoned family land, but it is remote. It is a long walk to the closest small town. The fantasy of running away is a common one for kids. I wondered what my children would think about a teen running away and his parents not seeking after him, at least not for months.

In some ways, I think the rash of TV devoted to survivalists over the past 20 years might have normalized this book in ways that it wasn’t for my original reading. The problems solving is interesting. As an adult, it is a little too neat. Yes, he has read books about how to make a fishing hook, but putting that into practice is probably harder than it seems. The book opens with his difficulty building a fire and being taught how to do it. But there are few challenges that do not easily get solved. This is a book oriented toward late elementary or middle school. So there needs to be tension, but I don’t expect to read tragedy.

Most of the book is about Sam, alone with his thoughts and a few animals. He is less lonely than I think many kids would be, but loneliness is a significant part of the book and its resolution. Visitors, and the modern world, spoil his fun. But this is framed as a book that is conscious of being part of the modern world but looking romantically back to an earlier age. I do not want to push books for not being what they are not intended to be. I don’t think this would be written in this way if it were written today. No book written 50 years later would be precisely the same. But the absence of authorities being concerned for his welfare, not just parents, but also social services, would have to be accounted for somehow. There is no real place that is apart from the internet these days. If he could walk to a local town in a couple of hours, he would have cell service. And that would change the framing of the story.

As with almost all books I read as an adult that I first read as a child or teen, I am struck by how short this book is. It is listed as 208 pages on paper, but I think it took me about 3 hours to read. I was interested that there are more books in the series I did not know about, but they do not appear to have Kindle editions.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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