Just Keep Walking by Erin Soderberg Downing

Set in Minnesota, Just Keep Walking is a middle grade novel written in part to encourage resilience and perseverance in tweens. Erin Soderberg Downing creates twelve-year-old Josephine Conlan, aka Jo, to carry her message about not giving up in the face of adversity and challenge.

Jo’s older brother, Jake, is in college now, and her dad side-stepped into a new family despite his promise to take his daughter on the Superior Hiking Trail the summer of her seventh grade year.  With all of her alone time, Jo experiences “too many uncomfortable silences. Too much time to think about the way things used to be. Too much space to notice the holes in [her] life. Too many chances to wonder what else might break” (7). Determined to conquer these “monsters” and to prove she can live without her dad, Jo decides to take the hike with her mom—even though Mrs. Conlan is not the outdoorsy type.

Two days in the hike, however, Jo realizes she’s not in “fighting shape,” either. More a book-loving introvert than an athlete, she is ready to bail on the entire deal. Jo realizes that hiking is really hard, not the wood-chip-lined trails with gentle hills taken at a relaxing pace that she had envisioned. Still, she has vowed to exceed the number of miles that Jake and her dad hiked and isn’t ready to sacrifice that goal. She finds herself hoping that the experience ends up being worth the mosquitoes, ticks, blisters, exhaustion, injuries, stabbing muscle pain, wildlife encounters, and “wearing clothes that smell like week-old roadkill” (22), just to prove a point!

While on the trail that Jo is convinced is trying to kill her, she has considerable time for thought and reflection. She has to come to terms with then versus now and to prove to herself that “no matter how many times we get knocked down, we can get up and keep walking” (88-89). She has to grow to realize that “each little change or choice can cause a dramatic shift in how the future plays out” (179).

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