I read not one, but two really fantastic lady coming of age works this week. What?! I know. It was spring break.
In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
The world of ninth grade dramas and catastrophes, the small and the large, is delicately yet accurately shown through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl in In Zanesville. The unnamed narrator has always viewed herself as a sidekick to her best friend, but she’s forced to start coming into her own when she’s fourteen. This book doesn’t have a clear overall plot arc, but instead focuses on scattered events — the narrator being unexpectedly invited to a cheerleader’s make-out party, her family’s distress as her father spirals into debilitating alcoholism, having a house accidentally set on fire during babysitting… It’s rare to see a book that describes so perfectly how it feels to be fourteen. Confusing, exciting and kind of horrible.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Wild got a lot of attention around the blogosphere last year, so I will be just one of a thousand voices urging you to read it.
While Cheryl Strayed was about thirteen years older than the narrator of In Zanesville when this memoir takes place, it deals with a lot of the same theme of figuring out how to be a grown up. Strayed was in her early twenties when her mother died of cancer, and her whole family seemed to just drift away. Her happy marriage soon floundered, and she found herself sleeping around a bit and dabbling in hard drugs. In a desperate attempt to straighten things out, she decided to hike the ridiculously difficult Pacific Crest Trail from the deserts of Southern California to Washington. She is ill-prepared and scared, but along the way meets amazing, helpful people who support her in her quest to shed the past.
Although the memoir genre can easily tip into maudlin or egotistical territory, Strayed manages to write Wild so you are with her, not just watching her. You want her to get through it. You want her to be better. If you’ve ever felt adrift or confused after a hard life change, you’ll feel Strayed’s pain.
You’ll also feel it when she describes her toenails falling off. Yeah. That stopped me from doing any crazy hiking.