Nature Girl by Jane Kelley
Eleven-year-old Megan is stuck in the wilds of Vermont for the summer with no TV, no Internet, no cell phone, and worst of all, no best friend. So when Megan gets lost on the Appalachian Trail with only her little dog, Arp, for company, she decides she might as well hike all the way to Massachusetts where her best friend, Lucy, is spending her summer. Life on the trail isn’t easy, and Megan faces everything from wild animals and raging rivers to tofu jerky and life without bathrooms. Most of all, though, Megan gets to know herself–both who she’s been in the past and who she wants to be in the future–and the journey goes from a spur-of-the-moment lark to a quest to prove herself to Lucy, her family, and the world.
When I heard Jane Kelley describe Nature Girl at my library’s Local Author Fair, I knew I had to read it. I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with camp when I was in high school. In Nature Girl, Megan is dragged to Vermont with her family and forced to participate in mandatory art time each day. She’s not at all artistic, unlike her parents and sister. Megan just wants to watch TV, and most of all, she wants to talk to her best friend on the phone. Neither activity is allowed by her parents. They want her to spend time outside, which is why they force her to accompany her sister and her boyfriend on a hike. When Megan gets lost in the woods and overhears a couple talking about hiking from Mount Greylock, Massachusetts, where her best friend is staying, Megan decides that if they can do it, why can’t she. Thus begins her grand adventure.
This book was very well done. Megan was pretty obnoxious in the beginning, but I knew she was hurting. Her best friend was supposed to spend the summer with her in Vermont, but she had to cancel because her mother got cancer. Megan didn’t understand, but I did. Also, I knew she was ripe from some serious character development, so I decided to give her a chance. I think kids would identify with Megan right away. She’s from the city, and she has little experience with nature. Yet, she and her dog embrace the woods (over time). They even take on a bear!
Megan spends a lot of time alone during this book, but because she has her little dog, Arp, with her, she is able to talk aloud to him without it being weird. We get some dialog (albeit one way) in addition to the thoughts inside Megan’s head. She also encounters some other characters along the way that add to the story. My favorite was Trail Blaze Betty whose brownies and sage advice keep Megan going when things are rough.
I enjoyed reading the story of Megan’s growth while also reminiscing about my own time on the trail. Jane’s writing was compelling and fun. She was able to get inside the mind of an 11 year-old girl in a way that works for adults as well as kids. I look forward to reading more of her writing.
My Rating: 4 stars
Interview with Jane Kelley:
1. How did you get the idea for this novel? Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail?
When I began Nature Girl, my family was renting a vacation house in Vermont. Since our 10-year-old daughter was growing up in New York City, I wanted her to learn to love being in nature the way I had in Wisconsin. She didn’t. But she did love reading what I had written each day during our “art time.” After we got lost taking a short hike from our house, I had the start of a story. I have only hiked short sections of the Appalachian Trail, but I knew its challenges would provide comedy, adventure, and a sense of accomplishment for a kid who doesn’t think she has any talents.
2. Why did you choose to have Megan’s dog accompany her on this journey?
I wanted Megan to hike on her own, but all that solitude would be deadly for a novel. I gave her the little dog Arp as a companion. In caring for him, she learned important lessons. I put animals in all my novels because I think they connect us to our emotions and to the natural world. Both themes are important in Nature Girl.
3. Nature Girl was published in 2010, and yet it was the book you choose to talk about at the New Berlin Library Local Author event. Why was that? Is it your favorite book? Do you have a favorite?
I often talk about Nature Girl at events because Megan’s journey parallels my own as a writer. I had to overcome self doubt and survive the long, lonely hike to finding an agent and a publisher. But, as Trail Blaze Betty says, the only way to fail is to quit. My first published novel has a special meaning for me, but I usually love the one I’m currently writing the best, because that’s the world I’m immersed in.
4. What are you working on now? Can you share anything about your current projects?
My newest books are The Escapades of Clint McCool, a series about a boy whose imagination gets him in and out of trouble. I plan to write more adventures for him in the future. I’m also working on a novel called City Kid – in which a girl from the country gets lost during a black-out in New York City. She must journey through New York’s eclectic neighborhoods to find her family and herself.
Thanks so much for the interview, Jane. I’m so glad to have met you last month.