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On the Far Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George

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Genre: Fiction

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      08.10.2011 18:44
      Very helpful



      The ending makes up for any shortcomings in this book.

      I loved 'My Side of the Mountain' when I was young, and having recently read it as an adult, I still found it a very enjoyable read. There are some aspects in the story that are not totally believable - such as a basically good and loving family allowing their 13 year old to live all alone in a hollowed out tree far from home and only checking on him once a year or so. Nor is it likely that the few adults who stumble on Sam's secret would keep it secret. Finally, I am quite convinced that all these passages about living off the land are written by someone who never tried it. Making a fire from flint and stone is not a task completed in a few minutes - no matter how good you are. Fishing may come easily some days - but other days you catch nothing, especially with only a home made hook and line. Still it was a very enjoyable read, and I think addresses a nearly universal fantasy of adolescents to strike out on their own and live wild and free. And if we want to knock books for being rather unlikely, I think Harry Potter would fare far worse than these.

      So, after having enjoyed the first book a great deal, both as a child and as an adult, I was quite happy to finally get the chance to read the sequel. This is another book I had desperately wanted to read as child, but the kind teacher who had lent be the first book did not own the rest of the series. New Books were a luxury for birthdays and Christmas, but this was pre Amazon - you had to actually be able to find a copy.

      In this story Sam is now 15 and his 13 year old sister Alice has come to live with him, building her own tree house not far from Sam's. It seems most of the residents of the nearby town are aware that these children are living on their own, and everyone is happy enough with that. Alice is all for progress, and many changes have been made to Sam's remote wilderness homestead ( which was once the family farm a century ago and the family retains rights to it). A pond has been put in, and a mill, besides just hunting and gathering the children now grow several food crops as well, but the main diet is still acorns, wilds meats and berries. Alice wants electricity though and has plans to use the mill to create it - Sam wants things to stay as they are.

      But everything changes when a conservation officer confiscates Sam's beloved Peregrine Falcon Frightful, who is more than a beloved pet - frightful also provides the children with all of their small game. To make matters worse, Alice disappears, and Sam and his friend Bando - a friendly adult who has shared Sam's secret since early in the first book, set off in search of her.

      I can't say this book is bad. The characters are excellent and well developed - but it just seemed to stretch the credibility of the story a bit too far. Everything about living off the land was just too easy. As if all one does is to catch a fish is toss a hook in the water and wait 2 -3 minutes. It was also just to unbelievable that an entire town would go along with children living wild like this. But it also lost what made the first book special - a story of striking out alone - independence and self reliance. I kept reading this book as I had already paid for it , even if it was just over a pound, and I kept hoping it would get better. On the plus side though there is something of friendship and camaraderie, as well just a good basic boys adventure, and I could see this appealing more to a preteen boy - which is really the target audience. But this book just does not match the first.

      The book does get better - much better with twists and turns that never would have crossed my mind. I can not mention these at all as it would completely ruin the book, but it is worth persevering. In fact. once I got to the good part, I was well pleased that I had bought the book and will be very glad to have it as part of library. I main even buy the 3rd and final book at some point. The last part of this book is full of excitement and adventure, and some very poignant moments as Sam crosses the boundary between childhood and adulthood. Although still young, Sam is definitely not a child anymore when this book ends.

      The only thing that really annoys me about this book is that it gets really good, even brilliant at page 135. This would be OK in a much longer book, but for a book of 170 pages, it does seem to sell the reader short a bit. Finally, I think this book would be pretty poor if you have not read the first book in this series. It would be very difficult to get into and many parts would never completely make sense.

      I believe this series was written primarily for boys. That is a good thing in my opinion, there just aren't enough really good books for young boys, and we can't expect boys to turn off the wide array of electronic devices and crack a book without having material that appeals to their interests. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as a child, and to remember it so clearly so many years later is a testament in itself. I was however a bit of tomboy, and I don't think this would appeal to all girls.

      I would recommend this book only to those who have read and enjoyed 'My Side of the Mountain'. As a series, my primary recommendation would be for boys ages 8 -15, or anyone with a secret desire to escape modern society and live a more primitive life. There is also a part of me that feels we raise children too much in captivity in our modern world. This book does make you think a bit about this, and some of the things our children may miss out on now. While living alone on a mountainside would be unacceptable to all or almost all of us - I can't help wishing boys could just disappear with a tent for a few days and taste life in the wild if they wished ( even if they do take a good supplied of crisps, chocolates and tinned food). Of course we can take them to a camp ground, but it hardly seems like wilderness with campers on either side of you, a shower block and toilets and a rule against campfires.


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