Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (2021)

by Gary Paulsen
ISBN: 9780374314156
Publication: January 12, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Hatchet was a book I read for class probably when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I remember enjoying it at the time, although I remember less of it now than those books I chose to read as opposed to those I had to. The draw of this particular book was that it is a middle grade nonfiction book, Paulsen’s memoirs. It’s supposed to be a glimpse into those moments that shaped him into who he is today. How does one write a memoir that will still maintain the interest of middle grade readers? You write it exactly like Paulsen does.

The memories are carefully selected, with the first half of the book focused on only a few months of life when he was five. It’s clear this is when his love for the wilderness began and likely when he was at his happiest. It moves forward through his childhood until we meet the librarian who made an impact on his life and, finally, we are thrust forward again until he enlists in the army. 

Paulsen allows readers to serve as observers in his life like they’re reading a novel rather than someone’s memoirs. Written in the third person, it reads more like fiction than not, which I liked, but just as I settled into it like I would any other novel, I would be reminded differently: these are moments he lived through; no, this is not fiction. It’s these moments in particular that struck a chord with me. It’s also these moments when the imagery in the book is at its best. 

Young or old, if you’re a fan of Gary Paulsen or his books made an impact on your life, this is a worthwhile read. Some of the content might be mature for those who are younger, but it doesn’t exactly fit into YA either. If you’re a librarian or an educator, or someone who just genuinely cares about kids, the section on the library and the role the librarian played in his life was especially meaningful. I hope the librarian knew how much she positively affected his life. It made me cry. However, I’m a pretty sentimental person and cry at a lot of things. The section reinforced why I chose to be an educator.

**1/12/2021 Update: I attended a Webinar on release day and Paulsen didn’t mention whether the librarian knew but he did reiterate her role. He said she was the difference between life and death in his life. Made me teary again.**