“Book Review: The Word for Woman Is Wilderness”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
Just the feminist voyage I’ve been waiting for.
When 19-year-old Erin decides to create a film documenting her travels from England to Alaska, she is met with mixed emotions. Some people think it’s reckless. Some envy her. And her parents are stricken with worry. But her fear of what could happen doesn’t stop her from making a journey that she feels needs to be done and needs to be well-documented from a female perspective. Abi Andrews gives us a resilient, vulnerable, and sharp-thinking character for her debut novel, yet it’s her strong feminist voice that makes The Word for Woman is Wilderness an absolute must read.
Erin’s voyage is loosely planned but filled with grand ideas for what it can become. For the most part, people are willing to aid in her journey by providing rides, connections, or long-winded advice. With all of her gear in her bag, and often stranded in strange places, she seems both overly prepared and underprepared, mature beyond her years and naive. It makes her experience honest and her connections with the people she meets sincere, even when things don’t go the way she plans.
Honestly, this book felt hand-selected for me. I’m positive it will feel that way for many of you with a similar interest in independence, but why it resonates so perfectly with me is how it addresses issues that are unique to women travelers. It’s a relief to hear a female character talk about the realities of being a woman while traveling independently, like dealing with her menstrual cup overflowing in the middle of a dog sled journey through Greenland, or jumping into a truck with someone twice your size and risking the possibility of a sexual assault. She doesn’t call the dogs to a sudden halt to clean up. She doesn’t stop hitchhiking because of a bad experience. The journey continues, and I did a little jump for joy every time she decided to push through.
“So girls as a very general demographic cry more. Maybe you can say this is weak. Or maybe you can say that it takes a lot of strength to admit you feel so much all the bloody time.”
In the spaces between her huge external life experiences, the narrator is able to express the internal thoughts that come only with being alone or with strangers for a long period of time, like constantly scouring her brain to make connections with the past. A popular subject that is seen throughout the book is the idea of mountain men: people like Chris McCandless, Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, etc. All of these guys stand in the ring to capture this title of the true mountain man, and with this journey, Erin happily enters the game. She is in conversation with and about these men throughout the entire book, questioning their motives and ideas, making points for why women are actually more suited for this lifestyle and looking at the role women have played in the past.
“So what is woman? Is she where the symbols aren’t? Woman is wilderness, if she is man’s unwordable other. Woman is closer to the mountain and the wolf than men even if only because he put her there. Therefore, woman can listen better than man, if not as well as the mountain, to the real howl of the wolf.”
Another of the many cool aspects of this book is how much unique information Andrews is able to include in it. NASA, the unabomber, Native Americans, the universe, nature; all are discussed in great detail in this jam-packed book that will leave you feeling like you’re ready for a voyage of your own. Reading Andrews was an experience I can’t compare with other writing. It’s quick and smart and really just in a league of its own.
This is the book you read and pass along to your closest friend, of any gender. But for every woman who needs inspiration to do something that society says is not suitable for you, grab a copy for yourself, your best girl friend, and your best guy friend. You all need to read it.
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
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