Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
Growing up is difficult. There is a struggle to create who you want to be, to find ways to do the things you love, to exist comfortably in a space and to fill it in the way you choose away from the exceptions imposed on you from youth. This struggle becomes infinitely harder when you are female, when violations against the space you fill are commonplace. Sexual assault is a rite of passage for young girls, a coming-of-age ceremony when we are told that any space we occupy is not truly our own, and who we want to be is influenced and impeded by violence. This is not the way it should be, but it is something we rarely can openly talk about. The violence becomes our shame.
It is refreshing to find a voice that openly describes these violent trespasses and the long roads to healing. Aspen Matis does this in Girl in the Woods, speaking candidly on her second night of college when she was raped, and experiences walking the Pacific Crest Trail in search of herself. It is the “story of how my recklessness became my salvation,” and it is marvelous.
Part memoir, part travel adventure and part nature writing, Matis’ prose is beautiful. She speaks eloquently about the events that happened to her, capturing the 2,650-mile path she walked, then tying it together with masterful storytelling that captivates and inspires. This is a truly wonderful memoir (think Wild meets Lucky), blunt and open and incredibly inspiring. Matis gracefully tells of the hardships she faced and how she learned that the violence she suffered was never her shame, and how she found the strength to be who she wants to be.
In the book she discusses how women are often denied a voice to express the violence that they may experience, and many of the ways that their voices are denied or deemed unimportant. She discusses the ways that hypermasculinity can affect they way that women’s voices are heard, and advocates for crisis hotlines (such as RAINN), as well as removing the shame that is often projected onto victims of sexual violence.
I loved this book and highly recommend it to everyone. It has similar themes of overcoming tragedy that are present in Wild, and a wonderful hopefulness and humor. The writing is beautiful, the adventure is marvelous and I can’t wait to see what Matis writes in the future.