Book Review | Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher HarperCollins Canada (where I am currently an intern!). This does not affect my opinion of the book.]

In high school, one of my favourite movies was Into the Wild. Watching it was such an escape and a great reminder that worldly things don’t really matter. I always finished the movie feeling more grounded, appreciative, and content. (I reacted similarly to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.) So, when I wrote about Girl in the Woods for The Savvy Reader‘s fall preview (read it here!), I knew that I had to get my hands on it.

Now, I’ve never read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, so I don’t know how these two books compare, but I was incredibly moved by Girl in the Woods. In it, Matis hikes the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada as a way to heal from the devastation she felt after being raped on her second night at college and feeling disappointed by people’s reactions to it: instead of consoling Matis, her family treated it awkwardly and even urged Matis to keep quiet about the rape; her school was no better and deemed her case “inconclusive,” allowing the perpetrator to remain on campus with no consequences. With college feeling more and more unbearable each day, Matis decides to move on from the pain and seek healing in the woods.

I really admired Matis’ honesty in Girl in the Woods. She doesn’t shy away from writing about difficult situations, from her rape to her interpretation of her family’s reaction to it. In some parts, I did feel like Matis was being overly harsh on her family, but it’s refreshing to read something so unfiltered. Luckily, she does come around by the end of the book – thanks to her time in the woods – and recognizes how difficult the situation was for everyone. She also experiences a lot of growth while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (aka the PCT), and learns to feel strong and proud of her body. I could relate to some of the insecurities that she felt, and it just made me feel that much closer to her experience.

Matis’ recollection of the trek itself was engaging, thrilling, and inspiring. I’ve always felt very connected to nature, and reading about Matis’ journey was almost as good as being there myself. I loved the idea of “Trail Magic” and sleeping under the stars. It made me yearn to go exploring, to get out of the city, to see new things. Though Matis’ experience is a personal and individual one, I’m sure we can all relate to how wonderful it is to unplug and reflect.

Girl in the Woods is more than just a memoir: it’s a book about growth, standing up for yourself, and finding the strength you never knew you had in you.

Verdict: An unflinching memoir about a woman’s journey to finding and loving herself. It combines action with a ton of heart to create an inspiring and heartwarming read.

Read if: You’ve ever felt alone, or that you weren’t good enough; you want to read about how being alone in the woods can transform you; you want to read a well-written and touching memoir with tons of positive messages for readers of all ages and experiences.

Ps. After finishing the book I came across this interview Matis did with Interview Magazine and it’s definitely worth a read.

Do you want to read Girl in the Woods? Have you read Wild?

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9 thoughts on “Book Review | Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis

    • Karen says:

      The transformation she talks about is mostly within herself, but she does get some sort of closure from her school. I think there’s still a lot for us/society as a whole to do when it comes to talking about rape culture (especially on campus) though.

  1. Naomi says:

    I loved Wild, so I would probably also like this one. One of the things I liked most about Wild was the hiking experience itself – is there a lot of just hiking in Girl in the Woods? I also appreciated the fact that a lot of time had passed before she wrote about her experiences, so I’m a little wary about this one feeling too young. What do you think?
    Thanks for the link to the interview – it answered some of my questions!
    The other book on that non-fiction book list that looks good is Stolen Sisters. Have you read that one?

    • Karen says:

      I found it to be a great balance between talking about the trails and self-reflection. I think, because Matis is so honest, there are parts of the book that do feel “young”; I spent parts of the book really hoping that she would see some things differently by the end – which she totally does. I found that this actually enhanced how I felt about the book as I could clearly feel Matis’ growth throughout her hike/journey.

      I haven’t read Stolen Sisters yet, but it’s one of my most anticipated books from that list. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to read it soon!

    • lauratfrey says:

      *late to the party* I’ve read both, and I found myself wishing Matis had waited, to gain the perspective and wisdom that was so lacking compared to Strayed, but, like Karen says, this is a a story about a young, very naive girl and there is something authentic about how she wrote it. Even if it’s very hard to take at times.

  2. Shaina says:

    Oh, this sounds beautiful. I was a big fan of Wild, though it’s faded in my memory (my boyfriend read it recently and I was embarrassed by how much I’d forgotten). It was bracingly honest, and this sounds like it’s in a similar vein. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!

  3. DoingDewey says:

    I’ve not really been in the mood for memoirs lately, but when I am, I’d like to try both this and Into the Wild. Given how raw Strayed’s Dear Sugar column was, I could see them being very similar. I really like your outdoor picture! I’ve been thinking of trying to do my own pictures of books but so far haven’t made the time.

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