Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.
Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, seven-year-old Leigh Newman spent her time landing silver salmon, hiking glaciers, and flying in a single-prop plane. But her life split in two when her parents unexpectedly divorced, requiring her to spend summers on the tundra with her “Great Alaskan” father and the school year in Baltimore with her more urbane mother…
Here’s what I thought:
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I really love books that are set in Alaska, the Arctic, or other locations in “the Great North” (is that a thing? I may have just made it up). Anyway, when I saw this memoir up on NetGalley and its subtitle: Surviving the World’s Greatest Alaskan Childhood, I knew I wanted to read it. I didn’t know anything about the author, although I’ve since done a little research and discovered that Leigh Newman is actually the Deputy Editor and a columnist for Oprah.com.–you can read more about her on her blog.
The story grabbed me right away. Her parents having divorced when she was seven, Newman begins the book during the first summer that she spends alone with her father. They are both still reeling from the break-up of their family, and the way she describes that time, in which they are together yet each locked in his own private grief, is so touching and sad. I literally was teary-eyed by the third page. Way to pull on my heartstrings, Leigh Newman!
The writing is really well done, darkly funny and bittersweet. As Leigh alternates between an idyllic wild childhood with her father in Alaska during the summer and a seemingly privileged life with her mother where she attends a private east coast school the rest of the year, it soon becomes obvious that neither situation is really working. Leigh retreats into a rebellious adolescence and tenuous relationships with both her parents.
The second half of the book takes place when Leigh is a young adult, working as a travel writer and living out of suitcase, finding it hard to commit to any place or anyone. I didn’t grow up as a child of divorce myself, but I couldn’t help but sympathize with Leigh even as I found her emotional immaturity to be frustrating, too. The second half was a bit drawn-out in comparison with the first, and I think overall I appreciated her childhood stories more, but the resolution is well done and satisfying.
For anyone who has read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild, I found there to be quite a few parallels between the two books. Though Newman’s journey is more metaphorical, both books feature women who are searching to feel at home with who they are and to trust themselves enough to let other people into their lives. (And they both write some lovely prose.)
I really enjoyed Still Points North. Highly recommended.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Random House for providing me with a copy of this book.
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