Review of Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood
by Gary Paulsen
Intermediate, Middle School    Farrar    368 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-374-31415-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-31416-3    $10.99

The prolific Paulsen dips into his seemingly inexhaustible well of memories to pen yet another memoir. Employing the same third-person narrative voice he used in a trio of short, affecting stories about his grandmother (The Cookcamp, Alida’s Song, and The Quilt), Paulsen reveals more pivotal moments of resilience from his difficult childhood and teen years. At the age of five — and at his grandmother’s ­insistence — “the boy” goes to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm in the northern woods of Minnesota, but that safe haven is abruptly taken away when he must cross the Pacific Ocean to reunite with his parents. The boy’s time in the Philippines is brief, but his memories are indelible. Flash forward to age thirteen. The boy spends as much time in the woods as he possibly can to avoid his alcoholic parents at home. He scrapes by at school, and works setting pins at the bowling alley, but his discovery of the public library, its kind librarian, and the power of books and stories literally changes his life. The boy’s military service is another formative experience, and then he finds his voice — and his calling — as a storyteller. Resonant themes and beautiful writing unify the memoir’s episodic structure.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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