Set in Colorado, Backcountry by Jenny Goebel tells the story of thirteen-year-old Emily Walker. Daughter of a mom with grit and determination who tells her to play it safe and an athletic dad who tells her to go for it, Em is a lead attacker for the Impalers’ volleyball team. Strong, adventurous, and Identifying as an athlete, Em feels like she has to compete with Dad’s real estate clients for attention. Because a bad appraisal or inspection often takes precedence over Emily and her mother, Emily believes that her dad only pays attention to her life when she is winning tournaments and trophies.

When Emily learns that she has Type I Diabetes, life as she has known it changes forever. A girl with a serious needle phobia, Emily trades in her volleyball career for a new life revolving around needles, testing strips, finger pricks, and insulin doses. The only perk is that she gets a service animal, a black lab named Molly who can detect changes in Emily’s blood sugar levels.

Hoping to resurrect her volleyball dreams and save her relationship with Dad, Emily begs him not to cancel their previously scheduled skiing excursion into the Rocky Mountains. “I needed to show Dad that I was still the champion he’d always been so proud of” (35).

After Dad agrees, Em is elated, but hesitation, doubt, and concern accompany every new challenge. On their trip, Emily takes inspiration from Will, an eighteen-year-old army soldier whose letters she reads from a book she finds in one of the huts on her trip into the backcountry.  Just as Will during World War II had low moments, lost friends, sustained injury, and fought valiantly, this trip calls on Emily to use her own courage, to never succumb, to never give up, to cling to hope that she could do the impossible. She adopts Will’s mantra: Sempre Avanti: Always Forward.

Goebel’s story provides inspiration for all young readers. From Emily, readers will learn that “victory comes in all different shapes and forms. It doesn’t always mean that you defeat your opponent, like in a volleyball match or the Nazis surrendering to the Allies. Sometimes victory means that you stop letting something have power over you” (210).

  • Posted by Donna

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