My Side of the Mountain
Reviewed by: Justin
Summary: In My Side of the Mountain the archetypal “Innocent on a journey” and protagonist, Sam Gibley, appears to write his own experience of running away, specifically to the Catskill Mountains near New York City. To many young adult readers, this 13 or 14 year-old’s account of leaving his family’s too-crowded apartment in the city for his new hole-in-a-tree home feels and sounds real enough that the readers believe the story, and they have asked the true author, Jean Craighead George, for more details. However, it is fictional adventure. As a bildungsroman covering Sam’s experiences and entertainments, this novel is a 12 to 14 year-old’s dream preview of passing through adolescence. Sam demonstrates independence, capability, and courage in the face of dangers such as hunger, hunters, fierce parties of animals, and especially winter storms; short mention- but only short mention- is also given to more sex-specific aspects of adolescence: marriage in the distant future and growth of facial hair. Other characters include Sam’s father, periodic human guests to Sam’s forest home, friends in the nearby town called Delhi, and personified animals of the forest, such as his pet falcon, Frightful; nature, though Sam usually describes it beautifully, could additionally be considered a fierce character and antagonist.
Analysis: Sam’s thoughtful appreciation for nature reminds the reader of Annie Dillard’s adult nonfiction, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, who also lives in nature for a period of time, though she has the luxury of a cabin. Even though the piece was first published in 1959, its setting in the forest makes it relatable to young adults of any time period. As might be typical of the writing of a 13 or 14 year old in 1959, the writing style is not very mature on the surface. Observant readers, however, know the challenge it would be for George to write in such a fashion. She pretends to write as Sam very well, and one way she demonstrates that skill is through the use of blunt transitions. When returning from the flashback that covers the majority of the novel, she writes, “Now I am back where I began. I won’t tell it again, I shall go on now with my relief and the fun and the wonderfulness of living on a mountaintop in the winter.”
Additional thoughts: One way My Side of the Mountain is very different than later young adult literature is its vocabulary. Speaking from a young adult’s point of view, the vocabulary today would be much more natural to today’s young adult vernacular. Use of words such as “shall” or “gay” in the old usage of the word give away its older publication date. Though a Newbery Award winner, application of this text in class might only appear on a reading list as an option, since the text does not necessarily induce deeper thinking in the reader. It is well described as wish-fulfilling literature as part of the fourth stage of literary appreciation.
About the Reviewer
City: Logan, Utah
Date Reviewed: 11/15/2013