Destined to be a classic survival story like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis proves that the world is not tame. Ashley Hawkins lives near the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, “a place where geography cannot only kill [her] but also dictate [her] friends” (5).
With her mama’s DNA that drove her to do everything alone and with her daddy’s inability to say he is wrong about something, Ashley has independence and stubbornness in her genes. As a result of these traits and coupled with her explosive temper, Ashley acquires the nickname ass-kicker at summer camp. From her summers at Camp Little Fish, she also learns to survive in the wild—what plants are safe to eat and how to make a fire board, use her hair for cordage, locate a game trail, and build a shelter out of pine boughs.
In the late spring of their junior year, Ashley and her friends are out in the forest drinking and camping when she discovers her boyfriend Duke’s betrayal. Inebriated and overcome by grief and anger, she flees from the scene, tearing through the woods like a crazy woman when her barefoot jams under a rock. Still, she keeps running until she is exhausted and falls into a ravine.
When Ashley awakens the next morning and takes stock of her injury, she realizes that she doesn’t know in which direction she has run and is unaware of the camp’s location. Soon, she has to admit that she’s lost and in grave need of medical attention. Bones exposed, her foot is a “mashed mess of nerves and tendon and muscle” (68).
Because they know Ashley’s independent nature, all of her friends assume Ashley has gone home, so she is truly alone. Left to fend for herself, she encounters adversity from the terrain, the weather, and a forest full of wild animals. However, she was born with teeth and fingernails made for hanging on.
Despite the fact that she lives in a ramshackle trailer house in impoverished conditions, it is home to her dad who loves her, and Ashley yearns for its shelter and sense of security.
Trudging for days on end renders Ashley weak from starvation and exertion. Plus, she has lost a lot of blood from her wounded foot that eventually grows infected and develops into blood poisoning. Although Ashley isn’t done living, her body can’t keep going. More than once, my stomach clenched and grew queasy at the choices she is forced to make so that she can survive.
Readers are bound to grimace and grieve, as well, as they accompany Ashley in the wilderness, fighting for her life.
- Posted by Donna