Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Title: Into the Forest
Author: Jean Hegland
Genre: YA, Post-Apocalyptic

Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
Publishing Date: September 1st 1998
Hardcover: 241pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

For some reason this review was sitting in my drafts. It looks like I read this book back in 2011 and I can say I don't really remember much about it. The parts that stick out are the parts I didn't like so I guess there's that.

Set in the near-future, Into the Forest is a powerfully imagined novel that focuses on the relationship between two teenage sisters living alone in their Northern California forest home.

Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbor, Nell and Eva struggle to survive as society begins to decay and collapse around them. No single event precedes society's fall. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas is nowhere to be found. The sisters consume the resources left in the house, waiting for the power to return. Their arrival into adulthood, however, forces them to reexamine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and each other.

Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, Into the Forest is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking novel of hope and despair set in a frighteningly plausible near-future America.

This is a book about two sisters: Nell and Eva. Living 30 miles from town on the cusp of the forest, the sisters have always been close. Even as gas becomes scarce and electricity is now a thing of the past, the two sisters lives stay surprisingly the same. Clinging to the hope that all they have to do is wait the crisis out, Eva still practices her dancing everyday and Nell reads the encyclopedia in preparation for Harvard. In fact, if is wasn't for an old acquaintance showing up at their doorstep and the occasional food running out, the sisters could almost pretend nothing had changed. But no matter how much they try to ignore it, everything has changed. As the world slowly crumbles and they start to drift apart, the sister will have to face obstacles they never thought they would have to face. And though the forest was once something they usually ignored, now it may be their only hope for survival.

While this story takes place in an America that can no longer care for it's citizens, the real story is about Nell and her relationship with her sister as they come into adulthood. In fact, the entire apocalyptic aspect of the story is vague and unexplained. Nell, and therefore the reader, never find out why the country started falling apart in first place. There's simply no explanation for the cataclysm of the story at all. None of the characters can get any news and this really bothered me throughout the story. Even Nell, who is a bit obsessed with her computer at first, never gets any information about the world outside their woods. While Nell's reaction to the deterioration of her world was really well done, the lack of answers made the story seem implausible. While I think the attempt was to make the reader feel like this could happen for any reason, it just felt like laziness to me.

Beyond that, while the characters did annoy me I could understand their motivations. At least I thought I could until one scene in the book. I don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone, but it basically cheapened the experience for me. The idea of focusing on two sisters, rather then a couple, really appealed to me but the book strayed too far from that premise for shock value. I also refuse to believe that a woman who has never had a child can produce breastmilk or hunt a wild pig on the first try.

I do have to say I like Hegland's writing though. There was a quality about it that I really enjoyed. Overall the story just fell flat for me. I shouldn't be bored when reading about two teenagers surviving the end of the world as they knew it. I don't even know what else to say since I feel so apathetic about the whole thing. I've read some complaints that the book has too strong of a feminist message, but I didn't get that all.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
It's strange, writing these first words, like leaning down into the musty stillness of a well and seeing my face peer up from the water--so small and from such an unfamiliar angle I'm startled to realize the reflection is my own. After all this time a pen feels stiff and awkward in my hand. And I have to admit that this notebook, with its wilderness of blank pages, seems almost more threat than gift--for what can I write here that it will not hurt to remember?

You could write about now, Eva said, about this time. This morning I was so certain I would use this notebook for studying that I had to work to keep from scoffing at her suggestion. But now I see she may be right. Every subject I think of--from economics to meteorology, from anatomy to geography to history--seems to circle around on itself, to lead me unavoidably back to now, to here, today.

Today is Christmas Day. I can't avoid that. We've crossed the days off the calendar much too conscientiously to be wrong about the date, however much we might wish we were. Today is Christmas Day, and Christmas Day is one more day to live through, one more day to be endured so that someday soon this time will be behind us.

By next Christmas this will all be over, and my sister and I will have regained the lives we are meant to live. The electricity will be back, the phones will work. Planes will fly above our clearing once again. In town there will be food in the stores and gas at the service stations. Long before next Christmas we will have indulged in everything we now lack and crave--soap and shampoo, toilet paper and milk, fresh fruit and meat. My computer will be running, Eva's CD player will be working. We'll be listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, using the Internet. Banks and schools and libraries will have reopened, and Eva and I will have left this house where we now live like shipwrecked orphans. She will be dancing with the corps of the San Francisco Ballet, I'll have finished my first semester at Harvard, and this wet, dark day the calendar has insisted we call Christmas will be long, long over.

My ultimate issue with this book was I didn't care for the characters. While the writing was lovely, it kind of felt like a chore to get through.

Rating: 5. Blah – essentially neutral

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