The fruitful spring, lasting well into a golden summer. The crisp autumn, filled with working hard for nutrition in the cold air. And the imposing, possibly cruel, winter. One penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, flint and steel, and 40 dollars are all Sam Gribley chooses to have as he ventures into the wilderness.
Have you ever wanted to run away from your home for a taste of independence? At some point in their life, everyone has. The book My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George captures the essence of this desire. Throughout his childhood, Sam has wanted to go to a property in the wilderness his great-grandfather is rumored to have. With the appropriate tools, knowledge of edible plants and traps for animals, and confidence, he finds the Gribley property and sets up a small campsite. The Gribley property is in the Catskill Mountains, near the city of Delhi, New York. Sam is able to go there to buy essentials, and to the library to read up on how to make items in the midst of nature.
What Sam isn’t aware of is how difficult living in such conditions will be. With many incidents, he eventually learns how to use his observational skills and knowledge to survive. Along the way, he sets up a home in the hollow of a tree and becomes friends with Baron the weasel and Frightful the falcon, the latter of which he trains to catch prey for him. These conditions force him to learn important life skills, such as how to be prepared for the unknown.
As a reader, I found this a refreshing book to open, as it has a plot that can be enjoyed by all ages, being neither too emotion-packed or bland. However, I would only rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars, because of unrealistic loopholes in the plot. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I would alert the cops about a missing child and not allow the child to stay in the wild for an entire year. Sam could have starved, been killed by predators, and more; yet, this book ignores all these possibilities.
Plot holes aside, the overall themes of the book tend to shine throughout the story and make it a pleasant read that leaves you happy and satisfied, until the end. The end wakes you up and makes you ponder how it relates to the rest of the story, which is when you begin to notice how much the character has matured, as well as how humans impact the environment. Humans are hurting nature and disturbing it, for we tend to continuously abuse our surroundings. Sam’s adventure shows that maybe he can coexist with nature, but the conclusion of this story shows that humans, in general, tend to be destructive, unless we put a stop to overconsumption of our resources, starting with the end of deforestation. The ending of this book is open for interpretation, since it can also be seen as a display of how much family and human companionship means. Sam does start desiring human company, and realizes how much he misses it as he starts to try to converse with people hiking in the area.
When reporters do come to him, he learns the value of nature’s isolation. Isolation, and the silence that ensues, can teach lasting lessons. I would genuinely love to go camping again, perhaps alone, for during a science camp in fifth grade and my trip to Yosemite in eighth, the silent moments were rich in value. They opened my eyes to a world outside my bubble. Unlike Sam, I wasn’t isolated, but I would like to be, because not only did he learn of the world of the woods, he acquired something more valuable than all the most precious elements in the world: independence.
A pleasant and engaging tone allows the reader to enjoy the story as one would enjoy a folktale. What stands out to me in this book are the descriptions of the meals Sam creates in the wilderness. They become more rich in detail and components throughout the book, inadvertently showing how much more responsible he becomes as time progresses. They seem quite unnecessary at times, but really bring out a dimension of the story that reminds the reader that Sam Gribley is a human who requires nourishment. For example, he describes a meal of "fluffy mashed cattail tubers, mushrooms and dogtooth bulbs, smothered in gravy thickened with acorn powder. Each plate had a pile of soaked and stewed honey locust beans mixed with hickory nuts.” These wild plants bring another layer of realism to this book. This is one of many intricacies highlighted in the story which make it seem plausible. Not many metaphors or senses are used to visualize the meal, but the increasing detail and how complex the food becomes say it all. The earlier meals are simpler, but this meal is towards the end and much more elaborate, showing the character becoming more adept in living in the wild. The plants mentioned are real edible plants you can prepare the same way he did. This helps the reader imagine exactly what their life would be like if they lived in the woods.
Sam is a well-rounded character who does what everyone aspires to do, and does it stubbornly no matter what the hardships. He thinks of going home sometimes when times get difficult, but perseveres and makes a stable life in the wild, to the point where his family comes to him. Even though there are obvious problems, this book is an essential read with its lovable main character and his steely will.
Pragya Natarajan is a ninth grader at Cupertino High School in California. Her hobbies are running, reading, writing, and painting. Her favorite color is red, and she loves covering things in duct tape.
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