Cheryl Strayed’s Wild meets The Revenant in this heart-pounding story of survival and revenge in the unforgiving wilderness.
Jess is stranded in the woods. She has few supplies and only her dog for company. Her survival skills are limited, and she has disabilities that make physical labor a challenge. And winter is on its way. How did she get here?
Alternating between the past and the present, this tightly-paced novel tells the story of a girl who survived a car crash that killed her mother, then was pulled from foster care and sent to live with her estranged survivalist father in the remote Canadian wilderness. Jess was just beginning to get to know her dad when a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving their cabin burned to the ground and Jess’s father dead. Now, Jess must fight with everything she has to forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. But she will survive. She has to survive. Because she wants revenge.
**** Big thank you to Penguin and Viking Books For Young Readers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!****
Normally I wouldn’t enjoy a survival story, they tend to be long and tedious since there’s a lack of exciting things and dialogue. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying “I Am Still Alive” it was an enthralling read! This may be a survival story but it’s also a story of revenge, and I was living for it!
I enjoyed how the story starts out being told in a “Before” and “After” fashion, before meaning before her father was killed and left her stranded out in the wilderness and after meaning after those events. Eventually the narrative catches up with itself but it made the book a lot more interesting getting those chapters of “Before” since it breaks up the tediousness of reading about Jess collecting wood etc. I liked having dialogue and other characters to follow while reading!
It’s a pretty evenly paced book as well, of course a survival story isn’t going to be very fast paced but this wasn’t slow either. I wouldn’t say there were many plot twists but there were a lot of ups and downs, Jess would either succeed or fail at the many trials of survival out in the wilderness. Sometimes it would get too stressful and intense and I would have to take a break from reading, I couldn’t handle it! Overall I was invested in Jess’s survival though!
I also really liked the revenge aspect of the story, it was a unique twist on the classic survival book. Though Jess’s idea for revenge doesn’t come along until later, I mean she is pretty busy trying not to die, but she will do anything to take down the men who killed her father. There was one instance that happened ( I won’t specify since I don’t want to spoil anything) that seemed a little too convenient but it helped drive the revenge side of the story more, so I can forgive it a little bit.
Altogether I loved reading about Jess and her struggles to survive, it was interesting to see what she could come up with for different things such as shelter, food, and fire. Sure she would make mistakes but she learned from them and figured out how to do it better.
Also the writing was fantastic, it was very compelling and I’ll be curious about more of Marhsall’s books in the future!
I genuinely liked Jess as our protagonist and narrator, she’s a sympathetic character. I thought she was well developed and really grew as a character throughout the story. As I already briefly mentioned she does make mistakes, some that are pretty big, but overall I thought she was very clever. It was very heart breaking to see how much Jess has been through: the death of her mother, the murder of her father, and then being stranded out in the wilderness. It would be enough to break anyone but Jess overcame it in order to survive and I think that she is one of the strongest female characters I’ve read about in a book. I’ll definitely be including her in that group when it comes time to discuss some of my favorite strong female characters!
Another thing that made “I Am Still Alive” stand out among other survival stories is that Jess is disabled. She came out of the car accident that killed her mother with a weakened leg and scarring running up the one half of her body and onto her face. I thought the narrative did a great job portraying her disability as well, it was never used to make Jess seem like a weak character. Sure she wasn’t physically strong enough to take care of some tasks but what she lacked in physical strength she made up for by being smart about the task at hand.
My real favorite though? Bo, the dog. He’s a big giant husky/malamute/other mix and he’s adorable and protective and overall a good doggo.
There of course wasn’t much for side characters since the story is about Jess but there were a few. I didn’t have much of an opinion on Jess’s father but her father’s friend, Griff, who ran out supplies for them was adorable. Seriously just the sweetest, cutest guy, if you read this book you’ll understand! Then there’s the group of bad guys who shoot Jess’s father and they’re nothing more than that, the bad guys. There wasn’t much depth to anyone other than Jess.
What I Loved:
- Even pacing
- Intriguing plot with plenty of ups and downs
- Narrative told in “Before and After” (made the story more interesting)
- Revenge element of the plot
- The writing
- Diverse character representation with a disability
- Jess was a great protagonist well developed, and smart
- Bo was awesome….because he is a dog
What I Didn’t Love:
- Plot development that felt too convenient
- The bad guys were kind of one dimensional
If you enjoy survival stories then I definitely recommend checking this one out, I think you’ll find a few things that break the mold. Otherwise I recommend it for the disabled character representation, the revenge story, and the fact that this is a story with a strong female protagonist.