Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

In a memoir that reads like the fiction that has made him famous, Gary Paulsen leads his audience through the rugged terrain of his childhood, a period that profoundly inspired his Newbery Honor-winning classic wilderness and survival stories The Winter Room, Hatchet and Dogsong. In Gone to the Woods, the beloved author candidly lays bare the details of his tumultuous youth.

Paulsen detaches from his narrative, using a third-person perspective and referring to himself always as "the boy." This approach pulls the reader closer to young Paulsen as he stumbles through adolescence. With little guidance from his absent parents, he finds comfort in places of isolation, such as the woods or the basement of his apartment building. Paulsen exposes his early life with raw honesty and heartwarming humor, which allows readers to intimately experience the boy's mortification at getting stuck in a train toilet or celebrate alongside him in his triumph over savage geese.

Some of the most inspiring moments come in Paulsen's discovery of the library and the joy of reading. "Somehow, without thinking, the library became part of what he was, what he did. A safe place. Like the woods." It was here he met the woman who introduced him to the magic of books, inspired him to write and showed the 13-year-old "how to feed his brain." This awakening of Paulsen's love of story ignites hope in his dark world, offering readers a buoyancy that counters the heaviness of his struggles.

Gone to the Woods is labeled for middle grade children, but this literary treasure is written for book lovers of any age. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

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