I Am Still Alive – Kate Alice Marshall – Viking Books – Published 24 July 2018
Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive–for now.
Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.
With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined.
I Am Still Alive is a pulse-pounding survival novel, epic and wild. There is no better beginning to an action adventure story than the character informing the reader that they are still alive when they should be dead. The prologue certainly gets the heart racing and it had me hooked on Jess’s story.
Before, Jess has been flown to the middle of nowhere to live with her dad. Injured from the car accident that killed her mother, the last place she wants to be is living in the wilderness with a man she hardly knows. After, Jess is alive – barely. She must rely on her basic knowledge of the forest to build shelter, hunt for food and survive, with nothing but her dad’s dog, an empty rifle, a bow and quiver of arrows and her wits.
I Am Still Alive is divided into four sections – four seasons through which Jess tells her story. The first is split into before and after segments. At first it’s not clear what happened to separate the two, but as Jess narrates, the pieces slowly come together. The before and after sections flow together, sometimes marked with chapter headings and sometime sections are interrupted midway through a sentence to go back to present time (after). It’s through this flowing style that the feel of the story emerges. It is Jess’s story and I could clearly picture Jess writing down the story as it all unfolds, trying to justify the jumbled way in which she remembers and tries to processes things, struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened. It is a style that is appealing and grounding.
At times, I Am Still Alive felt like an action movie and other times more like an autobiography of someone’s true story. There are plenty of tense and action-filled scenes, and a large proportion of the book details the steps Jess must take to survive. Little is ignored, from the ways in which Jess must learn to hunt and kill to eat, to preparing shelter and balancing her physical well-being with her mental and emotional state. I enjoyed all those details, gruesome as some were, because it gave this book an awesome sense of realism, capturing the scene and placing the reading right along side Jess in her terrible and amazing journey.
Jess is an inspiring character. Injured from the car crash that killed her mother, she is still only just coming to terms with the limits of her body and the new label she has been given – disabled. But events give her very little choice. She must push her body and soul beyond the limits if she is to survive. Jess isn’t Wonder Woman or a born survivalist. She would much rather the comforts of civilisation. She doesn’t know how to hunt or build a fire. What ability she has with a bow and arrow came from a childhood attempt to get closer to her father and doesn’t translate all that well to the wild. But it is Jess’s limitations, her ordinary-ness that make her such an appealing character. Because, despite the many, many (seriously, it doesn’t seem fair how many) setbacks and challenges thrown her way, despite wanting to so badly, she never gives up. And that makes her and her story pretty damn awesome.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Survival, grief, death, disability, dogs, hunting, adventure, murder, father-daughter relationships, family, wilderness, Alaska.
Reading age guide: Ages 12/13 and up.
Advisory: Violence – strong descriptions of murder, decomposition of a body, injury, blood, killing, skinning, butchering and eating animal. Occasional coarse language, f*** (3), sh** (2), as***** (3), pi** (4).
Published: 24 July 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 336 pages.