A Young(er) Reader’s response to an Alaska Book

Remember the contest we had earlier this fall, asking people to write about Alaska books that made an impression on them? This winning youth entry was sent by 14-year-old Arissa of Prescott Middle School in California. I was thrilled to get a personal response from a younger reader (from another state, no less) to our book challenge. 49 writers sent her a book of her choice from Title Wave.

INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer has elicited both praise and criticism from all kinds of readers — one indication of its power. Here is what Arissa had to say:

This book was very well written, but it left me feeling very sad for the avoidable waste of life. Chris McCandless was an idealistic young man who ventured out into the Alaskan wilderness alone, made some mistakes and died. He was an intelligent person, but yet he went into a forest without the necessities. This quote from the book is partly why I disliked him, “By design McCandless came into the country with insufficient provisions, and he lacked certain pieces of equipment deemed essential by many Alaskans: a large-caliber rifle, map and compass, an ax.” It seems disrespectful of nature and just plain dumb. It is hard to be sympathetic to someone who ignores all of the warning signs of danger and refuses to make any moves that would ensure his survival. Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.

It read to me almost like the story of a mentally imbalanced person pushing himself over the edge. I found myself angry at the self-indulgence of Chris McCandless and the heartache he caused his family. Many young people do foolish things like Alex did. Most survive, but some don’t. This book meant something to me, even though I didn’t particularly like it. It made me realize the vast difference between “fun craziness” vs “terminal craziness” when it comes to the actions of young people. I read this book and could relate to the angst that I sometimes cause my parents when I insist on marching to my own drummer and refuse to listen to them — even when I know they are right. I would never go so far as to do something as stupid as Chris did in this book, but it would serve young people well to realize they don’t know everything.
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