It’s Grace here, after a long day yesterday. Today, I’m hanging out with my sick dog and trying to catch up on items from the to-do list from yesterday that I didn’t quite get around to with a delayed flight (and exhaustion that caught up to me much more quickly than expected.) While I’m bummed to have left Georgia, I’m excited to be in some non-heavy sunshine and back in my house.
One of the items I didn’t quite get around to was sharing my love and adoration for one of my favorite books of the year, The Other Side of Lost! On Monday, I posted a mood board that I thought summed up the major aspects of the book pretty well. Today, I have a review for y’all and an excerpt — in case you really wanted to get a feel for what it’s like. Without further ado, here’s some more gushing.
Novel: The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby | Goodreads
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Girl Online meets Wild in this emotionally charged story of girl who takes to the wilderness to rediscover herself and escape the superficial persona she created on social media.
Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.
With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself.
This book took me a solid month to get through. Not because it was slow or non-engaging, mind you, but because it was painful to read. For context, my big dream of the summer after deciding to spend it in the States rather than abroad was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with a friend. While the John Muir Trail is not quite the same, the concept as a whole felt similar. My reasons for the trail were not quite as detoxifying as Mari’s, but I relate heavily to her Instagram-focused mentality. I don’t linger on numbers too much, but still find myself obsessing at times or framing photos inside my head too often.
Mari was originally uncomfortable to read, but not unlikable. The pervasive self-awareness she carries with her (self-consciousness) meant that her relationship with social media wasn’t so much about her ego.
The reading experience itself improves as it goes on.
In the beginning, her constant worry is disruptive and unpleasant, but it’s part of the book itself. The chapters are structured around hashtags and image ideas, and we experience her birthday as she stages pretend moments of happiness. Still, she’s a thoughtful girl and isn’t shallow — her meditations are reflective and precise. When she starts to mull over her shared birthday with her cousin Bri, who passed away while on a training hike, she realizes how unhappy she is and makes a rash decision that results in her having a breakdown over video. While it is a deliberate choice she makes in the moment, she wakes up and has a ton of regret or worry — especially as she gets a lot of mixed responses. Some people who she thought loved her rip on her decision.
And because her aunt sends her a package with Bri’s now-defunct hiking plan and gear, it crosses her mind to get up and go. Just roar onto the trail and finish her cousin’s plan. Connect with her in ways that she couldn’t while alive.
Although it sounds pretty rickety when you put it that way, Mari has this smoothness to her that allows you to totally buy into the last-minute nature of her plan. You trust that she’ll pull it off because she is, at her root, a stubborn girl. I related to her ability to decide and go through with what she puts her mind to, which is part of what made her development so painful.
On the trail, Jessi Kirby nails all the images of hiking: the smell of dirt, the legs aching, the joys and the downfall. Every day feels like such a roller coaster. It’s so momentary, so stitched together rather than holistic. She even captures many of the human aspects of being on a trail: interacting with other hikers, the culture of “passing it forward,” the joys that living so roughly amplifies.
Because of that, the narrative doesn’t feel like it has too much structure. You have to kind of roll with it, and it’s instinctual. It feels good to read though, not unorganized, and fits with everything about the tone. Inside the book, there’s a fabulous and nuanced group of teens that she meets (and a sweet maybe-or-maybe-not romance that is perfect for the scene.) There’s always something humorous, poignant, and challenging going on. Furthermore, there’s a tangible character arc in which we get a better feel for Mari’s character — and who she’ll turn out to be.
Bonus: if you’re ever looking to hike the John Muir trail, The Other Side of Lost has a lot of good tidbits and a great overall look at the mentality of those doing it. It captures a full spectrum of emotion, and Kirby’s knack for painting scenic and quiet moments does it justice. It’s a perfect pairing of plot and writer, and so up my alley.
My complaints are small enough not to bother me. For one, I would have loved to hear Mari’s concerns about her safety as a girl on the trail. That was the reason why my parents ultimately restricted me from going. Being out in the open alone, as a female solo hiker, comes with its own concerns, and I’m sure that a girl as conscious as Mari would have been worried at times. The only time that this aspect of the book was brought up was during a brief encounter in the permit office, but I think realistically it’s an aspect of the trail that would have fleshed out some of her nervousness.
For another, some questions do go unanswered. We never really got an explanation for what happened to Bri. Mari just totally ignores her mom’s texts, showing us the updates she sends but not the emotional responses that I’m sure she received. The book cuts off while she’s still in the wilderness, which is a choice that means that we don’t get to see how she adjusts to life back at home. I would have loved just a small glimpse or moment showing us. I think it’s pretty easy to disconnect when you’re out in the wild (“forest bathing”) but tougher to carry that experience back with you. That’s me being picky though, because the book functions well regardless.
There are so many bits that this book does well, without being obnoxious. Many of the books I read that have a social media component to them demonize it completely, and Kirby manages to write out a lot of the nuance of how it can be good and bad. Which habits are ingrained in my generation when we go somewhere. All that jazz.
I think The Other Side of Lost will resonate with lots of folks I know for its stunning imagery, searingly real conflicts, and the moments of humor and affection that it peppers into a narrative that can sometimes be sobering. It’s quiet and plainspoken enough to get its flavor across in graceful ways, and has many of the situations in it that I love most. Enough tropes to keep the genre-loving happy, with enough grit to keep it literary and stylistic. It’s a phenomenal coming of age that highlights the transformative experience of backpacking — perfect for what I needed to read. It made me want to go hike.
Don’t believe me? Read for yourself.