Be Not Far From Me

by Mindy McGinnis

“Yesterday I was thinking that if I’d been treating this whole thing like a test of my abilities, I needed to pass it real soon. After looking at my foot, i put the deadline a little closer, edging up on me just like the red on my leg.

Urgency leads me to head off in clothes still wet from the creek, adding to the weight I bear and chafing against my legs. I cannot wait for them to dry. Cannot wait for the sun and wind to do me favors. Cannot stop to try to catch a fish, because infinite patience is required to snatch one from the water with only your hands, and I have neither infinity nor patience.

What I have is a bomb on the end of my leg. Not one that will explode but rater expand, licking its poison into my healthy tissue until I am no longer well enough to walk. And once that happens, I’m done.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A

I was obsessed with Be Not Far From Me early on. Survival stories always fascinate me, but this is no Hatchet. Set in the Smoky Mountains, Ashley is rough around the edges – she lives in a trailer, drinks with her friends, and rarely has enough food to eat. Life has not been easy for her, but she has learned to survive – in life and in the woods – through intelligence and determination.

Mindy McGinnis is known for writing stories that are emotionally powerful and wholly addictive, and this was no exception. I needed to know if Ashley would make it out alive, and even though she is as rough and tumble as they come, I was rooting for her the whole time, especially knowing that the very reason she got lost in the woods is the reason that no one might find her in the woods (she caught her boyfriend cheating on her and he is likely not going to admit this). She has no tools or supplies and has an injury that gets worse by the day, but by using the clothing she has and items she finds, she works to slowly survive the wilds of Tennessee.

Be Not Far From Me is unlike any survival story I have read – it deals with so much of the past (and what makes Ashley Ashley), but it also is honest about the present. Very little takes place coincidentally, and Ashley has to fight for every step she takes. There are days when she can’t take another step and there are days when she catapults down a hill in an attempt to out pace a terrific storm, but all-in-all, I was hooked, determined to know if Ashley survived and what happened next. With twists and turns, this dark and honest book is a quick, captivating read. I so appreciated the Davey Beet mystery, as well, which allowed me to see Ashley in a whole new light.

Movie Rating: R

Be Not Far From Me is much like McGinnis’ other novels – enticing, intriguing, and dark. Ashley swears, drinks, references drugs and sex, and discusses poverty, racism, sexism, and death. Ashley is gritty and notes that her poverty and fire have made her a resilient, stubborn fighter; these same traits, though, set the stage for a story that is appropriate for older readers.

None of the difficult themes are raised casually – Ashley thinks about everything in the woods – but there is a lot of depth as she fights for her life and fights her way through the woods. Ashley is honest about her escapades, foolish mistakes, cruelty, and betrayals. She is equally honest about the church group that helped her, and in a powerful scene, she talks to God and about God. It is in this passage that Ashley explains the title of the book – Psalm 22 discusses difficulties and pain, and is a prayer for God not to abandon us – and dives into her fears and utter solitude.

There is a lot of mature content in this book and graphic discussions of Ashley’s injuries and past exploits, but for the right reader, Be Not Far From Me is such a powerful story that this can be overlooked.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes, but…

Be Not Far From Me is a terrific book, albeit a novel more suited for more mature readers. Mindy McGinnis has a track record of writing compelling stories with strong female protagonists, and this totally fits the bill. The survival aspect of this makes for an addictive read, but one that is definitely not for young YA readers. Knowing my teen readers, though, this book will be a hit with reluctant readers, survival fans, and gritty drama fans.

Summary:

Ashley Hawkins knows what she doesn’t like: most people, her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, and the fact that Davey Beet has been missing for two years. She also knows what she likes: the woods which feel like a second home, her strength which has deterred more people than it has attracted, and running, mostly because she is darn good at it.

Hailing from Tennessee, Ashley is no stranger to poverty, roughing it, or the Smoky Mountains, so when her friends suggest camping out in the woods before their senior year, she is game. She is less than excited when her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend shows up and the night only gets worse when she catches them together later in the night. Horrified and betrayed, Ashley runs in the dark, stumbling in the woods, and injures herself badly. With no sense of direction or distance, Ashley fights to survive and make it back home.

With no supplies – or even shoes – Ashley must deal with the elements, the animals, and the unknown all while dwelling on the emotional wounds which are sometimes the hardest to heal. Ashley is gritty, angry, and completely likeable as she fights for food, deals with a rash and injury that seem to be getting worse by the day, and becomes determined to survive even with the odds stacked against her. The whole time, she is motivated by thoughts of her missing mentor, Davey Beet, and all the things she should have said to those closest to her when she had the chance.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. What is Ashley’s home life like? How does the story’s setting impact her as a character?
  2. Who is Davey Beet? What is his story and what was his relationship with Ashley?
  3. What are some of the things that Ashley does to survive in the woods?
  4. What does Ashley do when she is in the trailer? Why does she keep the baggie as a reminder?
  5. Ashley reflects on attending church when she was little. Why is she drawn more to Psalm 22 rather than the more popular Psalm 23?
  6. Why does Ashley go back into the woods at the end of the book?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  • I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
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