Monday, October 05, 2020

MMGM- Alone in the Woods and A Hopeful Heart

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Behrens, Rebecca. Alone in the Woods
October 1st 2020 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
ARC graciously provided by the author.

Jocelyn always looks forward to the vacation in a cabin that she and her friend Alex's family take every year. From doughnuts at the lumberjack themed diner to the ritual jumping in the lake, the girls have a settled routine from which they never waiver. This year, however, Alex is angry at Jocelyn, who is not sure how to make things right. Jocelyn still doesn't care about fashion or boys, but Alex made friends with the popular Laura at a summer camp, and is now embarrassed by Jocelyn's "childish" ways. The girls bicker constantly, and when the family is out on a rafting trip, their shared raft isn't any fun, with Alex constantly checking her phone and ignoring the outdoors, which Jocelyn loves. Jocelyn bounces the raft, Alex's phone falls out, and the two become separated from the group while they search for it. When the raft springs a leak, they end up on the shore, and fall further and further behind. They take what they think is a shortcut and end up far from the water. As night falls, they are armed only with bathing suits, inadequate footwear, no bug repellent, and very limited food. Jocelyn tries to use good survival skills, but Alex can't put their squabble behind her even to take sensible measures. Will the two be able to mend their friendship and survive several days in the North woods?
Strengths: The pacing of this is excellent, with the friend drama and details about surviving in the woods trading off frequently enough to keep us curious as to what will happen next! It was also good to hear about what a typical vacation was like; I certainly needed a virtual vacation when I read this, and the details about the cabin, activities, etc. were wonderful. The difficulties that Alex and Jocelyn are facing with their middle school relationship are absolutely spot on; friendships can and do hinge on silly things like a risible sweatshirt. There are some great survival details, and you can bet that if I ever go rafting, I will be taking a very large, waterproof backpack with a ton of supplies!
Weaknesses: I was a little surprised that Alex was so clueless that she sprays body spray on herself in an effort to keep warm without realizing that this would attract bugs, but at that point she was being so obnoxious to Jocelyn that it was a nice infusion of schadenfreude. I always identify with the friends being left behind, so Alex's meanness felt very evil-- but that's good writing!
What I really think: I enjoyed this author's When Audrey Met AliceThe Last Grand Adventure, and especially Disaster Days, Definitely purchasing, and hope that Behrens turns her hand to a couple of other survival books; she has a real knack for these!

51457159Noyes, Deborah. A Hopeful Heart: Louisa May Alcott Before Little Women
October 6th 2020 by Schwartz & Wade Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Think about this: Alcott was born in 1832. That's 35 years before Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet she managed not only to teach, live alone in Boston, serve as an army nurse, and support herself and her family by writing short stories and then books. Also, she RAN for exercise! Can you imagine, given the clothing of the day? I was a huge Alcott fan when I was younger (my daughter's middle name is Louisa), so this was an absolutely fascinating look at her start in life. Because of her father's academic bent, there are many extant letters and documents about her life, and Noyes pulls together a cohesive look at the events and people that shaped her views and actions. While there is a wealth of information presented, this was a hard book for me to read because her father, Bronson, was such a complete and monumental jerk! Using the excuse of working for the greater good, he neglected his family responsibilities and put an unfair burden on Louisa's mother, Abby. His hare-brained experiments, such as the communal Fruitlands, often kept the family on the edge of starvation. At the time, there was little Abby could do but take in sewing and hope that her idiot husband would bring in a little money. There are two new graphic novels that depict Jo, from Little Women, as a lesbian, but I feel that both Jo's and Louisa's reaction to men has more to do with her mother's horrible marriage than it does to Louisa's romantic proclivities. (Her small but star-crossed romances were with men.)

Did I mention that Bronson Alcott was horrible?

It is truly amazing that Louisa was able to support herself; clearly her youthful privations made her motivated to do well for herself and gave her a lot of survival skills. This is a great book for readers who were raised on Little Women, but I'm not sure if there will be a great need for this in my school library. Every time a new movie comes out, I hope it will bring a resurgence in interest in this author, but so far, the books are still hard to get 12 year olds to read.

Below is a link for an interesting comparison of Little Women movies, but it doesn't include the 1978 version with Susan Dey as Jo and Eve Plumb as Beth. And, ick, I had forgotten that William Shatner played Professor Baehr to Dey's Jo.
Ms. Yingling


  1. I could use a little vacation right now and ALONE IN THE WOODS might be just what I need to fill the gap in my travel life. The characters and setting sound like the perfect combination. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  2. Two reviews today of Alone in the Woods. Learned different things from your review -- and that's good. Always enjoy a good survival story.
    I love Little Women, but am embarrassed to admit I haven't read any biographies about Louisa. What a challenging life she had to draw upon for her stories. Her real father was horrible, but her fictional father was beloved. Enjoyed both reviews today!

  3. Alone in the Woods sounds like an excellent survival story—I've seen a lot of people enjoying it! A Hopeful Heart sounds great as well—Louisa May Alcott's story sounds like an amazing one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these books!