A couple of years ago, we were on a journey-quest kick. It seemed like all the books we read and all the television and movies we watched dealt with the protagonists in a wilderness, finding themselves through trials and tribulations and nature (and sometimes food).
We ran through the obligatory list with Wild and Eat, Pray, Love (both the books and the movies) and then we continued on with Into the Wild, The Way, and A Walk in the Woods. Most recently, I found myself revisiting the journey-quest genre with Unbound.
I was excited to request Braving It from Blogging for Books.
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to only a handful of people, is a harsh and lonely place. So when James Campbell’s cousin Heimo Korth asked him to spend a summer building a cabin in the rugged Interior, Campbell hesitated about inviting his fifteen-year-old daughter, Aidan, to join him: Would she be able to withstand clouds of mosquitoes, the threat of grizzlies, bathing in an ice-cold river, and hours of grueling labor peeling and hauling logs?
But once there, Aidan embraced the wild. She even agreed to return a few months later to help the Korths work their traplines and hunt for caribou and moose. Despite wind chills of 50 degrees below zero, father and daughter ventured out daily to track, hunt, and trap. Under the supervision of Edna, Heimo’s Yupik Eskimo wife, Aidan grew more confident in the woods.
At turns poignant and humorous, Braving It is an ode to America’s disappearing wilderness and a profound meditation on what it means for a child to grow up—and a parent to finally, fully let go.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
JAMES CAMPBELL is the author of The Final Frontiersman and The Ghost Mountain Boys. He has written for Outside magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Men’s Journal, Audubon, and many other publications.
WHAT I THOUGHT:
My rating: 3 of 5 stars. I was expecting more of an adventure tale with life lesson insights as with the aforementioned books (Wild, Unbound, and Eat, Pray, Love). Campbell' (late in the book) sums up his hope for the Alaska trips with his daughter:
It’s what I’d hoped for when we first contemplated going north, that in addition to teaching her a variety of skills that would serve her well both in the wilderness and in life, Alaska would ignite her capacity for wonder, for imagining the largeness of life. (215).
Through building a cabin with his somewhat famous reality star cousin to experiencing an Arctic winter to kayaking the wilds, Campbell does set the stage for some wonderful wanderlust tales.
I got the impression (as they prepared for their third trip) that this was more personal for Campbell and less about teaching his daughter. What started of as a father-daughter adventure ignites wanderlust in both, but Campbell is melancholy and realizes that his adventurous times might be drawing to a close as middle age serves up two bum knees and some bouts with AFib.
Although I feel like Campbell is an honest narrator, I missed the “heart” of this tale. He seemed to simply be relaying chronological facts. Of course, there are some anxious times of worry as he takes his eldest daughter into the wilds of Alaska, not once but three times.
Campbell did accomplish what he sat out to do in influencing his daughter’s “capacity for wonder” and if you visit Aidan’s website, grittygal, you can see where her travels have taken her since Alaska. (And, you can read her perspective of the Alaskan adventures.) I have a great deal of respect for Aidan, that she did brave the wilderness trips, becoming both physically and mentally stronger.
I do respect Campbell for letting go and braving the fear of allowing his daughter experience these trips. I just wish there had been more emotional introspection and more, dare I say it, sentimental father-daughter moments.
I received a complimentary book from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions, exclamations, gushings and rants are my own.
If you are interested in the journey-quest type of memoirs, I would highly recommend Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery by Steph Jagger.