Be Not Far From me
Mindy McGinnis is one of those powerhouse authors who write across various genres intended for young adult readers. In her latest novel, Be Not Far From Me, she introduces readers to an intrepid young woman who is determined not to let the wilderness get the best of her. It’s a great story if you’re looking for female empowerment, but there were a few elements I found the tiniest bit implausible.
Ashley is never more at home than when out in the woods. Home and school are filled with all manner of social and familial pressure, and there are plenty of times Ashley isn’t sure she’ll cope, but she always feels peaceful and free when she spends time in the mountains not far from where she lives. It gives her a chance to reconnect with nature and leave her everyday problems behind.
When Ashley joins a group of friends for a night of partying in the woods, she’s not certain how much fun she’ll have. Things have been a bit strained between her and her boyfriend, and some of the kids who plan to accompany them are a little wild for Ashley’s taste. Still, she figures anything is better than spending the evening at home with her morose father. However, staying home would have been a better idea since things go south not long after the party starts.
Ashley prides herself on not being the jealous type, but she sees red when she catches her boyfriend having sex with another girl. Fuelled by an alcohol-infused rage, she runs into the night, taking nothing with her but the clothes on her back. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what a horrible idea this turns out to be. She trips over something in the dark and falls headlong into a ravine where she spends the rest of the night.
When she awakens the next morning, she expects her friends to be looking for her, but it seems they’ve abandoned her in the woods. I know teenagers can be thoughtless at times, but this particular situation goes beyond simple thoughtlessness, and I found myself hoping Ashley would find a better group of friends at the end of this ordeal. Now, she’s alone and gravely injured with no way home unless she can somehow manage to make it to the nearest road which is miles away.
I can’t tell you much more about the plot without spoiling things. At just under 250 pages, this is a short book that contains a ton of action, and I read it in a single sitting. Even though I had trouble suspending my disbelief a few times, I really wanted to see how Ashley would manage to get herself out of this super scary situation.
Ashley is a wonderfully complex heroine. The author manages to bring her to life on the page, highlighting the messy imperfections that make us all human, plus she’s a competent hiker who possesses all manner of nifty survival tricks she supposedly learned at summer camp. I loved her competence, but I also found it hard to take seriously sometimes. There’s a scene where she’s required to cut off a third of her foot, something she manages to do even though she only has a piece of flint she finds in the woods. I’m not a person who spends a lot of time outdoors, so I have no real idea how plausible this is, but I found myself marveling at her courage even as I questioned whether a teenager would really have the presence of mind to perform such a procedure on herself.
If you’re someone who enjoys books with lots of dialog, this definitely isn’t the book for you. We spend all our time inside Ashley’s head, and once she runs into the woods, there’s absolutely no conversation until very near the novel’s end. I was afraid I’d find this tedious, but in the end, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would. Ashley’s mind is very busy, and the author even throws in a few flashbacks that kept me from getting bored by the long stretches of her inner monologues.
Fans of fast-paced survival stories will most likely be delighted by Be Not Far From Me. It’s an engaging story that held my attention even when I found certain plot points to be a little over the top. It’s a great book to curl up with on a cold winter’s night, and it’s guaranteed to make you grateful to be safe and warm inside.