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My Side of the Mountain (A Newbury Honor Book)

My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George This novel suffers a bad case of what I call "Tom Sawyer Syndrome", and by that I mean that it is a childrens' book with a main character adults seem to adore, but if a kid were ever to actually do the things the kid in this book does, the adults in his life would never stand for it. The boy in the story, Sam, runs away from home and lives alone in the wilderness for over a year (on the side of the titular mountain). Why is it that kids in these survival tales are glamourized, but adults living out in the wild are all portrayed as either (1) ass-raping hillbillies a'la Deliverance; (2) right-wing psychopaths a'la Ted Kaczynski; (3) pitiful, directionless lost-soul types like that guy Chris in Into the Wild; or (4) groussing crumudgeons like Henry David Theoreau in Thoughts from Walden Pond? The only positive wilderness-living adults I can think of in literature are the ones who are stranded in some remote location against their will, like Robinson Crusoe. That's too bad, because there actually are some people (adults) out there who really could survive in the wild, and that is pretty amazing. On the other hand, the idea of a twelve year old raised in an urban environment just going out and surviving and thriving the way Sam does in this story is ludicrous. Even if he did manage to catch enough fish and gather enough berries to feed himself I just think it's very likely he'd die of exposure, or fall prey so some animal eventually. All the boy-wonder Disney adventure crap in My Side of the Mountain is pure naïve self-delusion. If there are any twelve year old city kids out there who were taken by this story, and who are entertaining the idea of running away from home to become a solitary self-reliant mountain man, I would encourage them to consider the following list of things much more likely to happen than the adventures Sam had in this book:1) His parents notice he's gone missing, and alert the police, who easily identify him at the bus station and bring him home.2) Sam's parents anticipate he would go to the abandoned family farm upstate, and wait for him there.3) Sam comes to his senses early on, realizes there is no realistic way he can live in the wild, and returns home in less than a week.4) Sam abandons the whole idea of living in the wild and goes off to try to live with friends or family (who probably tell his parents what's up)5) Sam trusts some stranger he meets on the bus, or hitchhiking up to the old family farm. His abused body is found in a ditch a few days later, or -best possible case scenerio- a private eye his family hired locates him a few years later in Tijuana dancing on tables for crack and candy bars.6) Sam gets lost in the woods and starves to death.7) Sam gets lost in the woods and freezes to death.8) Sam gets eaten by a bear.9) Sam falls, breaks a bone, and dies in the woods of starvation or dehydration.10) Sam gets eaten by a bear. I listed this twice because seriously, that's what would happen.So accepting the irrefutible fact that Sam would be eaten by a bear, I have to wonder why a story like this gets to be such a classic. I think it plays into both children and adults' fantasies about kids growing up and becoming independent. Many parents must look at their obese kids sitting for hours each day on the sofa, completely incapable of any original thought, but fully versed in the latest comings and goings of the Kardashian sisters, and they must think to themselves: "Gee, I wish my kids would run away from home and develop useful survival skills in the wilderness (and get eaten by a bear)." And it's true; it would be better and healthier for everybody if that would happen more often. On the other hand, kids sit around, as they have since the dawn of time, wishing they had more independence, embarrassed of the hypocritical life they must lead, which forces them to continually say things to their parents like "It's my life, and I can do what I want! ...but can I borrow the keys to the car tonight?" A book like this must seem wonderful to them... Sam goes off into the wild, with nobody to answer to, and carves out an existance for himself. Of course it would be more fun if he also had his cellphone and laptop with internet access, so he could check on Wikipedia whether those funny looking mushrooms are poisonous or not, and access to Facebook, so he could "update" his friends every 10 minutes, with helpful missives like "Still raining out here. I'm getting hungry again... think I'll check and see whether any new berries grew on that bush I saw earlier." Of course, Facebook or not, the kid would still eventually end up getting eaten by a bear.