I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall (2018)
YA Fiction | Contemporary | Survival
Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive—for now.
Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.
With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined.
Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father… and she wants revenge.”
pooled ink Review:
I LOVED THIS BOOK.
Okay let me back up a minute. This book has been promoted as being a revenge story and if you go into it expecting some big exciting scheme then you will be sorely mistaken. Personally I wouldn’t categorize this in any way as a revenge story. Like, at all. Does Jess eventually play around with the idea of revenge as a mental coping mechanism to help her survive winter? Yes, but it isn’t grand or clever and it certainly is a far cry from the main plot of the book even if it does make for an exciting climax. This book isn’t about revenge or mystery or family or any of those big flashy themes, it’s purely a story about survival and as far as survival tales go I really enjoyed this one.
Jess’ time in the wilderness is for almost half the book split between “Before” and “After” as she keeps a journal of her experiences. “Before” refers to when she stepped off the plane in Alaska to meet her Dad who’s supposed to have sole custody now that her mom is dead. “After” refers to everything that follows a pivotal moment: her dad’s murder. Flashing back and forth in time isn’t confusing, each chapter comes to a natural resting place before switching timelines and it helps keep the plot’s pacing at a quick clip and unyieldingly intriguing. It’s definitely a style that worked for me.
Reading about who Jess was “before” includes a lot of whinny teenage moments, but they’re important, realistic, and honestly relatable. Her mom just died, she’s covered in scars, she needs physical therapy to even limp around, she has never had any desire to live isolated from all human contact nor is she equipped to do so, and she doesn’t even know that man who is her father. Her resistance to her new living conditions is beyond understandable and her complaints are written in a way that didn’t annoy me, but rather made me relate in some ways.
Now who Jess is “after” is an entirely other being. Well, not at first. At first she’s a sixteen-year old girl who is honestly going to die within days unless she can wrack her brain for anything her dad tried to teach her and also be blessed with a heap of good luck. Watching her transform with each page was awesome and I couldn’t look away. I never wanted to put this book down! I just kept reading with my eyes wide wondering if I’d come up with half the ideas she did or if I’d be weak and succumb to my doom. I think her dog, Bo, was certainly a saving grace, and she did have some luck on her side, but this story didn’t sugar-coat anything. Living hundreds of miles from any glimpse of humanity in the Canadian wilderness was not romanticized, brushed over, or spun to dazzle us. It’s brutal, it’s wild, but day by day Jess survives.
There’s not technically a ton other to this book besides her survival story, but it doesn’t need anything else. Jess’ harrowing tale of survival is the heart and veins of this book and it’s what held me captivated. The subplot of her dad and those evil men who killed him and burned down his cabin created an interesting mysterious tension that worked as a great current to move Jess along, but really it’s watching her figure out 1) Shelter 2) Water 3) Food 4) Fire. And because it’s the wilderness and not a magical theme park, just as she starts to figure out one thing another will collapse or run dry. And I know many people might be wary of a book with basically only one character (at least for most of it) but I’m telling you it really works.
The ending is vague enough to avoid tripping over itself but we do receive the closure we need to feel satisfied. The story is told in a simple, unhurried, but somehow lovely way with those months in the woods as its center. It doesn’t dump lots of information explaining more about “before” Jess nor does it try to answer every single possible question about Jess at the end. It doesn’t need to. In fact I’d argue that with any more information than we’re given it would detract from the story’s true plot. I don’t know, I’m sure others will disagree but that’s how I feel. I think it was well-written, wrapped around an excellent idea, and it held me captivated for hours and hours until at last I read that final page.
Well, I can’t really say much else without dipping into spoilers so I’ll try and wrap this up with my solid recommendation that you pick up this book and check it out. SO. GOOD.
I Am Still Alive screams into the wind a story about a girl, a dog, and the wilderness that does not care one way or another if they survive; but despite the harshest elements, the blood in her memory, or the damage in her leg, that girl will stand with her dog and she will choose to live. Heart-pounding, captivating, deadly, and oddly beautiful, this book is a must read for those seeking tales of blunt sugar-free adventure. You’ll feel the rain-soaked chills long after you turn that final page.
Purchase Here: I Am Still Alive
Meet Kate Alice Marshall!
Kate Marshall is the author of the Young Adult novel I AM STILL ALIVE (Viking Children’s), coming in 2018. Her science fiction and fantasy fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Crossed Genres, and elsewhere. She writes historical romance as Kathleen Kimmel, and works in the video game industry as a writer and occasional designer. Her love of books runs through every aspect of her career; she serves as both a developmental editor and a cover designer for fellow authors.
She lives outside of Seattle with her husband, a dog named Vonnegut, a cat named after a cylon, and a baby. They all conspire to keep her on her toes.