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Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

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A middle grade memoir, giving readers a new perspective on the origins of Gary Paulsen's famed survival stories.

His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published January 12, 2021

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About the author

Gary Paulsen

306 books3,275 followers
Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read--along with his own library card--he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.

Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his stories.

Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 748 reviews
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
April 9, 2021
Gary Paulsen’s books have been in my household for what seems like forever. My oldest son and I would read them together when he was growing up, and now my younger kids who are now in elementary enjoy them. I’ve even read some of his adult books about the dogs he's had throughout his life, so when I came across this memoir for middle-graders, it was an instant purchase.

This book is told in narrative form and reads like fiction, but it’s all about his rough upbringing from about the age of five when he’s thrust off to live with distant relatives. His mother doesn’t have the time for him, and his dad is involved in WWII. Gary is sent on a train to Minnesota where he’s introduced to the woods, learns about life on a farm, and most importantly: the meaning of family. As time moves forward, his mother does return for him, and then he’s moved to the Philippines and eventually back to the States.

Gary Paulsen takes the reader into his experience growing up and it’s shocking at times. Many times he’s neglected, and some of the events that he's exposed to are outright dangerous, but he’s able to overcome, and it’s what made him who he is today. How inspiring that a chance encounter with a librarian inspires his future as an author. I’ve learned about parts of his life in previous books, but Gone to the Woods is just an amazing story.

Personally, I think the story is beautifully written. There were only a few times where the pacing felt a little slow. The entire book kept my interest; however, some of the content may be a little heavy for younger middle-grade readers. It probably best suits teen and YA readers. This is one to keep.


This review can also be found @www.readrantrockandroll.com
Profile Image for Jennifer Sullivan.
310 reviews17 followers
February 11, 2021
Though Paulsen has alluded to having a very difficult childhood with alcoholic parents and told bits and pieces of his past in other books, in Gone to the Woods he tells much more. Though this book is considered middle-grade, I would probably put it closer to YA due to the mature content. Paulsen doesn't hold back and tells of his mother's promiscuity, his parents' alcoholism, the neglect, witnessing the horrors of war and gruesome deaths and wounds; though he doesn't go into detail, he also refers to prostitutes, sexually transmitted disease, and more very difficult subject matter which could be beyond the maturity or sensitivity of many middle grade readers. However, it could also serve to give hope and inspiration to other children dealing with similar hardships, as Paulsen's story continues through his years in the army, and the moment when he realized he wanted and deserved something more from life.

As a librarian I was particularly touched by his description of how discovering the public library and being gently encouraged and guided by a sensitive and caring librarian made a huge difference in his life and led to his eventually becoming an author.

This book is written in Paulsen's typical straightforward style, no flowery prose, deep insights, or hidden messages. Just a man telling his story-the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think adults and older youth that are fans of Paulsen may have more appreciation for this book and learning more about the man, while younger readers may enjoy his works of fiction more.
Profile Image for Veronica ⭐️.
952 reviews189 followers
February 10, 2021
Gary Paulsen writes with stark reality, there is no softening around the edges. He writes about life exactly as he lived it and some scenes are quite gruesome. The story contains vivid descriptions of a train load of injured soldiers and also a frenzied shark attack on the passengers of a plane crash. What I found most distressing is that these are actual real events witnessed by Paulsen as a young child.

The story is narrated in third person with Paulsen referring to himself as 'the boy', so it reads more like a fiction novel than the usual memoir with first person narration.

Paulsen takes moments from his life and weaves a story around that event introducing history and education into the narrative.

The boy, at age 5, after living a life of neglect with his mother, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm. Here he learns to work hard and to live off the land but mostly he learnt how it felt to belong. Every sight, sound and smell the boy experiences comes alive on the page. These few years are what set him up to survive life when he was taken back by his mother. What followed was years of neglect, poverty, bullying and hunger.
The story isn't all bleak as Paulsen interjects humour into even the bleakest events.

When he discovers the library and the librarian who gently encourages him to read more and more books that broaden his mind a whole new world of hope is opened up to him.

Paulsen's writing starts out soft and gentle when he is a young child naive and fragile, as his life moves on you can feel the writing is more jaded, edgy. Then as a teen, 16 - 17, the writing is angry, disillusioned. I find this type of character change through words and sentence structure unique and engaging.

Gone to the Woods is a harrowing and moving true life story of resilience, perseverance and the healing power of books. Narrated with warmth and humour it is touching and informative.

This book is being marketed as middle grade but I would recommend 12+ as there are some quite horrifying and descriptive scenes of war and a shark attack.

*I received a copy from the publisher
Profile Image for Jenna.
57 reviews
September 11, 2020
Gone to the Woods is a memoir of the author's rough childhood and adolescent years. As a parent, it is an incredibly difficult read. Beautiful writing, but very, very heartwrenching content. As a librarian, this book made me remember why I do the work I do. Right now (September 2020), library work is often difficult and exhausting; everything is upside down as it is for everyone else in the world. But hearing Mr. Paulsen describe his introduction to the library as a haven and books as food was another reminder that the work we do matters, and every child we encounter matters, whether we realize it or not. I wonder if the librarian in his book ever knew the impact she had on his life.

This is my #1 favorite for 2020.
January 5, 2021
This is a gripping and fascinating memoir of Gary Paulsen's life, adapted from his previously written account (Eastern Sun, Winter Moon: An Autobiographical Odyssey ) particularly for an older middle grade/YA audience. There are some disturbing situations that aren't really appropriate for younger middle grade.
The things that he survived as a child and teenager are astounding, from being shipped away alone on a train to live with relatives he didn't know as a five-year-old, to scraping by on his own after running away as a young teen. To me, the most touching moments are when he spends time in a library to get warm and ends up connecting with a librarian who opens his world to reading and writing.
He writes the book from a third person POV, and even though we know as readers that it is autobiographical, it helps the narrative to connect with everyone rather than allowing the reader to view at a distance as an observer. Even though Paulsen is known for his adventure and survival stories, his descriptions of food are mouthwatering and those passages were some of my favorites. His descriptions overall are fantastic, because they are so vividly depicted for the reader to envision.
Highly recommended for tweens, teens, and adults alike.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,978 reviews3,297 followers
February 3, 2021
While I expected this book to be interesting, I didn't expect to love it as much as I did.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood is a memoir written in third person as almost an adventure story for a middle grade audience. It recounts key events in the childhood and adolescence of Gary Paulsen, author of the award-winning classic survival story Hatchet. It's both fascinating, sad, inspiring, and deeply moving.

We see experiences that connected him with the outdoors as a refuge quite early in life and inspired his later books. We also see the trauma he experienced, first as a young child with a mother who partied and brought him along, then living in Manila and experiencing the brutal violence of war, spending most of his time on the streets while his parents drank and fought, then as a runaway teenager surviving on odd jobs and the woods. But the thing that made me tear up is the librarian who changed his life when he was just a street kid. She helped him get his first library card, encouraged him to try reading (he eventually became a voracious reader) and got him started writing by gifting him a notebook and pencil. It's truly beautiful, and so moving to see the impact of a kind adult on a kid that the world had forgotten, a kid who couldn't deal with traditional schooling and was clearly experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

The early part of the book reminded me of reading Little House in the Big Woods as a kid. He spends a few months as a five year old living with his grandmother and it was perhaps the happiest and safest he felt. Even while doing difficult farm chores. I won't say more because you should just go read it, but this was beautiful, moving, and inspiring. I hope it connects to kids who also feel lost and have been subjected to trauma. I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
August 19, 2022
The name Gary Paulsen takes me right back to childhood where I remember seeing his name across the school library, book fairs, and on my teacher’s book shelves! He wrote many beloved adventure/survival stories that sparked the imagination of young kids everywhere.
I listened to the audio of Gone to the Woods, Paulsen’s middle grade memoir, and enjoyed every second! Paulsen’s life was a grand and sorrowful adventure - from a neglected upbringing in Chicago, to a brief stay with his aunt and uncle at their Minnesota homestead at age 5 that changed his entire life, to the years he spent in the Philippines where his father was stationed during WWII and he witnessed first hand the terrifying horrors of war while his parents focused on alcohol and fighting. Once his family returned to the states, Paulsen spent every possible moment in the woods or crossing the country during the summer to work farms for his own money. Eventually, his life would again be changed forever as a teen by a chance encounter with a librarian.
The content here is very heavy and feels more geared toward YA than middle grade, but I certainly think this is a story for everyone to read!

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Lisa Nocita.
1,003 reviews2 followers
November 1, 2020
Thanks to #netgalley #garypaulsen for the advance copy of Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

During my first semester of library school, the first young adult book I read was Hatchet. This began a lasting fascination with action adventure and survival fiction. And Hatchet remains a steadfast, go to recommendation I give to any reluctant reader. Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood is a middle grade memoir that provides the reader with seminal moments that marked Paulsen’s uneasy childhood. From the beginning his early life was marked by neglect and caustic parenting. At the age of five, his grandmother convinced his mother to send Gary to live with her sister far north in the woods. His mother happily accepted the notion and with only a small suitcase and five dollars in his pocket, puts Gary aboard a train. “She dropped him off at the train station to make the four-hundred-mile run to Minneapolis to connect to a different, slower north-woods train that would take him north another four hundred or so miles to International Falls, Minnesota, on the Canadian border, where he would be met by a total stranger to take him the final rough distance to the first farm his grandmother had selected. A five-year-old child. Completely and totally alone.”

At the age of 5, Paulsen was already accustomed to and mostly proficient at fending for himself. The farm, as it turns out has more lessons to be learned about self sufficiency, but administered with a kinder and more gentle hand. It is with his aunt and uncle that Gary develops his first sense of safety, security, and belonging. And he discovers the serenity, solace, and enchantment of the natural world, a connection that would direct him and provide respite throughout his life. Sadly, his time on the farm was a brief ellipsis in his life. But it did provide him with a reference for everything that came before and after. Paulsen goes on to recount a horrific stint in Manila, just at the tail end of World War II, reunited with his absentee military father. His parents are abusive, neglectful, alcoholics and, together, an explosive combination. This, coupled with the every day atrocities and horrors of a war torn country, heightens his survival skills but also creates in him a great distrust of most adults. Out of sheer necessity, he is able to compartmentalize much of the trauma he experiences and continues with heartbreaking pluck and fortitude. “And after that, a part of him, a part of his spirit, was calloused and toughened. Like leather. And he would not and could not be young again. Ever.” At some point the family returns to the states and settles in a small town. His parents become an ugly footnote from the this point on. Paulsen lives in a decrepit corner of the basement in their apartment building, or in the woods at the edge of town when the weather is cooperative, keeping out sight, keeping to himself, providing for himself working odd jobs. He’s in and out school, a place that he has little use for. “...not, he thought, that school mattered for him. It worked for others. Didn’t work for him. Teachers said things he was supposed to hear and handed him work to study, but he didn’t hear or couldn’t study, because he had to think about other things... He never thought about school except to know it was a nightmare walking.”

Paulsen runs away several times finding work on farms and ranches, once in a carnival, but is always found out and returned home despite the fact that his parents often don’t even realize he’s been gone nor want him around. He finds literal refuge in the library. “Place smelled like wood and what? Smelled like … books. Official-looking wood-book-smelling quiet place that made you relax the minute you came in the door. That’s what made it feel safe. An official government place where nobody would mess with you. A safe place where none of the loud-hard kids would come...It happened that way. Somehow, without thinking, the library became part of what he was, what he did. A safe place. Like the woods.” But it was more than the safety of the building that beckoned him. “It was the library and the librarian.”

At the age of thirteen, Paulsen is befriended by the librarian who wins him over wary encounters and slow and cautious conversations in which he feels heard and seen for the first time. “The library was how and where and when he came to learn things.” This relationship proves to be momentous turning point in Paulsen’s development. The librarian not only unlocks the magic and utility of reading for him, but also encourages him to write. “He wrote for the librarian with the warm smile. Even after she was gone and he was living in new places, living new ways, even then he carried the notebook with a blue cover and a yellow pencil and wrote all he saw and did and could remember. Always for the librarian with the warm smile. Who first showed him how to read the whole book.” As a librarian, this is the Mecca. What we know and believe to be our holy grail. The remainder of his teen years are spent in various pursuits, including a program at a vocational school.

“When he was about to flunk out of the eleventh grade, the state stepped in and he was passed to twelfth grade with the “proviso” (their word, not his) that he was to pay attention and really try to learn a vocation as a television repair man and not be a ‘burden to society.’” Again, this proves to a pivotal moment and one that would shape his prospects for many years. “Pure magic. And he loved it. Ate it with a spoon, ravenous to know more and more, to figure out how it all worked and to really know everything there was to learn about this new thing. And although he did not even sense it at the time, he would find later that the knowledge, the technical base of the knowledge, would affect him profoundly and for the rest of his life.” Paulsen enlists in the army after graduation. His experience, marksmanship, and technical intelligence all provided a career pathway he might otherwise never imagined while also showing him he wanted a big life with many adventures not a jaded one filled with regrets or longing.

The book ends a bit abruptly. Readers who see it through will marvel at his resilience and perseverance. It’s simply amazing that almost from his inception, he was a survivalist, intent on winning with the impossible hand he was dealt. He’s plucky, gritty, and determined. I think it could be a good book for guided discussion and possibly, a good read aloud. I’m not sure it will find a lot of young readership on its own. The writing is staccato, punctuated by short, almost stream of conscious sentences. But taken as a whole, you’ll marvel at his tenacity.
Profile Image for Ms. B.
2,827 reviews35 followers
May 5, 2021
Fans of Gary Paulsen and teens who love all outdoors-related stories will enjoy this best. Paulsen has written a late in life (he turned 80 in 2019) memoir based on memories from his childhood and teen years. Divided into 5 parts which could be stand-alone stories or selections on their own; The Farm, The River, The Ship, Thirteen, and Soldier.
Reading this made me remember my own childhood of growing up on a dairy farm, what makes Paulsen's writing beautiful, and why I still love and recommend Hatchet to young readers.
Profile Image for Richie Partington.
1,077 reviews123 followers
February 23, 2021
Richie’s Picks: GONE TO THE WOODS: SURVIVING A LOST CHILDHOOD by Gary Paulsen, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, January 2021, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-374-31415-6

Sit beside a mountain stream. See her waters rise.
Listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies”
-- Lennon & McCartney, “Mother Nature’s Son” (1968)

As a little kid, Gary Paulsen learned to love the woods. Later, he learned to love the library. Thanks, in good measure, to a public librarian, he was inspired to become a writer.

“When he returned the book, she could tell he was a little troubled and she asked what he was thinking. He hadn’t meant to, but he found himself telling her about how the book had made some brain-pictures come out of compartments that he didn’t always want out in the open. He told her how he’d lived in Manila for three years when he was a kid and had seen things that he hadn’t talked about.
‘What kind of things?’
‘Dust,’ he said. ‘Heat and dust and noise. Terrible noise. I heard gunfire almost every night in Manila when machine guns would start firing. So fast it was like a giant piece of cloth being ripped. Must have been the same at the Little Bighorn.’
And for a moment he thought she was going to ask another question, push him to talk when he didn’t like talking.
But instead she reached under the countertop and brought out a pocket notebook, which she set in front of him. Then she reached down again and came up with a brand-new yellow number-two wooden pencil. She put it in the sharpener and cranked the handle and then set the sharpened pencil on the notebook and looked at him.
‘What’s this,’ he asked.
‘It’s for you.’
‘For school?’ He started to suspect a gimmick again--all this was to get him back in school. They kept catching him and making him come back, but he’d wait until they weren’t looking and scratch gravel. Be gone. He wasn’t going to fall for that just because of a nice smile. No thanks.
‘No,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘It works two ways. You can read and get mind-pictures, which is interesting. And important. But there’s the other thing. You can see things, do things, learn things on your own, and see if you can write them down to make mind-pictures for other people to see. To understand. To know. To know you…’
‘Who?’ Who would ever want to see his private word-pictures? Or understand him or know him--an ugly kid with bad hair, old clothes, no money. Just nobody. A wrong kid in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time doing all the wrong things. Who would even care about him and what he had to write?
‘Who?’ he repeated. ‘Write it down for who?’
‘Well…’ She hesitated. Looking up at the windows a second. Up into the gold light. Then back down to him.
‘Well, me, for instance. You could show it to me.’
Stopped him cold.”

GONE TO THE WOODS is an episodic memoir packed with riveting and often horrifying tales of a childhood that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. It begins when Paulsen is preschool age. Born amidst the opening strains of WWII, the author doesn’t meet his dad until he is seven. His father is overseas in the Army. Meanwhile, his mother brings home a string of “uncles.”

During his preschool years, Gary is brought into bars by his attractive, alcoholic mother, a munitions plant worker. He is expected to sing and dance, a la little Shirley Temple, in order to attract male attention to his mother. He is rescued from this early show biz career by his grandmother, who insists that his mother send him by train up to the woods in Minnesota to be raised properly by relatives.

Settling into a house, deep in the woods, with his Aunt Edy and Uncle Sig, he is loved and mentored and becomes accustomed to an idyllic family life of self-sufficiency--fishing, farming, and gathering--in which he plays a full and enthusiastic role. Then, when it seems like nothing can make his life more perfect, his mother shows up to take him away.

I was entranced by the “word-pictures” of Gary’s time with Edy and Sig. I spent the rest of the book wondering whether he would ever get to return to his all-too-brief happy childhood in the woods. If he ever saw them again, he doesn’t recount it here.

After departing Edy and Sig’s place, Gary and his mother travel by train and then ship to the Philippines where Gary's father is stationed. The boat ride there is a doozy. So are his years in Manila. Back in the States, he must fend for himself. doing what he can to avoid his drunken, abusive, ever-battling parents.

Thanks to that inspirational librarian, Paulsen would grow up to become a writer, win three Newbery Honors, and a Margaret Edwards lifetime achievement award. But that would come later. Here, we learn the gritty, true-life survival story that equipped Gary to write his own stories.

From beginning to end, the writing is utterly compelling and the story is breathtaking. As with Paulsen’s most famous book, HATCHET, I recommend ages 10 and up for GONE TO THE WOODS.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 19 books157 followers
March 14, 2022
I've not read all of the hundreds of books written by Gary Paulsen, but I've read lots of them, and this one is among the best, if not the best. Over the years, I've been fortunate to hear Paulsen speak--a master storyteller--and memorable fragments of some of those stories appear full-blown in this memoir.

This is a capper of a capstone to the career of Gary Paulsen.
Profile Image for Laura.
840 reviews12 followers
December 1, 2020
An interesting memoir by Gary Paulsen, author of countless adventure middle readers and several great books for adults. I’m not sure this book will hold the attention of young readers, but I found it fascinating.
Profile Image for Lovely Day.
623 reviews83 followers
May 29, 2021

A lifelong story of a man. The book starts off when he is 5 and he is extremely uneducated as his mother does not raise him in a stable home and just sort of feeds him and thats about it.

We follow him through his difficult life as he lives with different people, learns things by watching other people and then through books at the library. He learns about life in the Philippines, and what the war is like, and then the book ends when he is in his 80's.

The book itself was fine enough (minus a few bits of minor language and sex xcenes hinted at through a young child's perspective) I just dont particularly enjoy coming-of-age or stories that span an entire lifetime, so that accounts for the mid-rang rating
Profile Image for Beth Mendelsohn.
180 reviews
November 19, 2020
Thank you to NetGalley for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Gary Paulsen has written his memoir for young readers. Paulsen had a very rough childhood. When he was 5 years old, he was living in Chicago with his mother (dad was serving in the Pacific during WWII) and mostly neglected. His grandmother convinced his mother to send him to live on one of the family farms. So his mother put him on a train to Minnesota, by himself, with a small cardboard suitcase and some money in his pocket – five years old! He lived with his aunt and uncle for a time and that is where his love for the woods grew. His uncle taught him some basic survival skills and young Gary helped out on the farm. After a time, his mother came to get him – they were going to the Philippines to live with his father. He is now seven years old. The war had just ended but there was still some fighting going on. WARNING: Paulsen describes some of what he had seen, on the ship and on the army base, in graphic detail. Later, the family comes back stateside to North Dakota, where teenage Gary is really left to fend for himself. He finds refuge from the brutal northern winter in the local library. He is hesitant at first but the kind librarian gets him a library card and hands him a book. Not being the best student, it takes him almost the whole loan period to read it but that sparked something in young Gary to read and write about his experiences.

I was excited to see this memoir – I truly enjoyed reading, and later recommending, the Brian series (Hatchet, etc.). While I don’t generally read a lot of nonfiction, this one pulled me in. It was a little strange how he referred to himself in third person as "the boy." But you can see where his ideas for Hatchet came from. While the publisher puts the recommended ages as 8-12 years old, I would hesitate to recommend this to some younger readers because of some of the graphic content mentioned earlier. I would definitely recommend it for grades 6 and up.

#GoneToTheWoods #GaryPaulsen #NetGalley
Profile Image for Ashlee Tominey.
169 reviews17 followers
November 28, 2021
Author Gary Paulsen writes of his childhood and it is a tough read. There is complex trauma. There are absolutely horrible adults. And there are good adults. And a striking depiction of a boy stumbling along doing everything possible to survive, to eat, get warm, and live for another day. Until he figured out what he wanted for a life and went after it.
Profile Image for Ruth.
Author 15 books182 followers
December 2, 2022
This was so incredibly good and so incredibly sad. I'm seeing all Paulsen's work in a new light.
Profile Image for Bonnie Grover.
765 reviews8 followers
February 25, 2021
This book was a great reminder of why I fell in love with Paulsen’s writing some thirty years ago. He has a way of telling a story that gets right to this mountain girl’s heart. I have read other bits and pieces of his life story, but this one painted a picture of a boy who had to grow up too soon and learn to handle all that life threw at him. I think it ended way too soon, but don’t all of his stories? I am looking forward to sharing this book with middle grade readers and a few adult friends as well.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13k reviews268 followers
April 24, 2021
Having read and enjoyed several of Gary Paulsen's books, including the ubiquitous Hatchet, long a favorite of middle grade boys and some girls, I was eager to read this one, essentially a no-holds-barred memoir of his formative years. I finished it, shaking my head at the resilience of this boy/young man. Not only did he survive a peripatetic early life, moving from bar to bar in Chicago with his mother as she sought out male company, but he was removed from the only stable place in knew in the North Woods when she decided to move to the Philippines to join her husband, Gary's father. He had been sent to the North Woods in Minnesota to join other family members when he was five, traveling alone by train. Once there, he learned about farming, survival skills, and stability from Aunt Edith (Edy) and Sig. But this sanctuary didn't last long, and once Gary--he's referred to as the boy, using a third-person point of view--for almost the entire book except for a couple of times near the beginning. This authorial decision most likely draws readers into the story as they may be able to detach the boy from the writer he becomes as a man. Some will find it easy to see the writer in the boy from the beginning, however. Although readers may hope that Manila will provide a reunion with his father and a happy ending, that is not to be. The boy's parents are alcoholics, and the narrative hints at abuse, violence, and neglect with Gary spending much of his time heading or on the streets, shocked by the violence he sees there as well. Once the family moves stateside, his home life continues to deteriorate, and Gary describes his parents as vipers. So horrible is his life that he runs away more than once only to be returned. If Edy and Sig provided brief stability, another turning point for thirteen-year-old Gary came at the hands of a librarian who suggested books for him to read, providing inspiration for the future writer. He'd originally entered the library to warm up and eventually came to see it as something of a safe place from all the turmoil and danger outside its doors. So many fans of this author will see something of themselves in his stories as well as in this memoir, realizing that there are ways out of desperate situations and that those terrible experiences can be channeled in future writing projects. Whenever I read Gary Paulsen's books, I am reminded of the works of Ernest Hemingway, so descriptive and detailed when it comes to the great outdoors and activities such as fishing, steering away from much emotionalism or introspection. His love for good food is clear as there are several passages devoted to the preparation and enjoyment of simple fare. Fans of the author's fiction will certainly want to read parts of this book, if not all of it, but even those who know nothing about Gary Paulsen's writing prior to this tale will find it riveting. His seems to have, indeed, been a lost childhood, and it's hard to think about what the world of children's literature would have lost had he not traveled to those Minnesota woods or met that kind librarian. I felt the last part of his story was a bit rushed and longed to have it fleshed out further in a second volume.
Profile Image for Laura.
720 reviews78 followers
January 7, 2023
It’s no wonder Gary Paulsen became a writer. It takes a lot to unpack that kind of neglect and abandonment. However, the very obvious neglect is really only the background to the life he developed as a response. It could have been a complaint; instead it was a story of perfect contentment even when he’s sleeping in an abandoned recliner behind the furnace in his apartment basement and eating peanut butter on bread for his meals. Paulsen learns to survive, first with the help of a kind aunt and uncle who give him his first lessons in hard, meaningful, rewarding work, but also later through the unexpected kindness of adults who could see his parents were failing him. The final adult to help him is a librarian who sparks his love for reading after he ducks into the library because it’s a quiet, warm, safe place to wait until he can make a few cents setting pins at the bowling alley. Although he never crash landed in Canada, like his most famous fictional hero, it isn’t hard to see where he got the idea that a young boy could truly survive on his own given the opportunity. He certainly did. And then he lived to tell the tale.
Profile Image for Tiffany Hough.
101 reviews3 followers
April 10, 2021
Brutal and illuminating. Paulsen survived a horrible childhood, and emerged resilient, capable, and a lover of books. The chapters about the librarian nearly had me in tears. This is being billed as a middle grade book, but content-wise, YA seems a more appropriate designation. It has a fair bit of graphic violence Seventh grade and up seems about right. In any case, well worth the read.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,471 reviews25 followers
November 4, 2020
Reviewing for School Library Journal. Reads very close to his fictional Hatchet series so a great way to introduce kids to biographies.
Profile Image for Debbie.
796 reviews13 followers
December 27, 2021
Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen is a book that is going to haunt me for a long time. I finished it a couple of days ago and can’t get it out of my head. The sub-title, Surviving a Lost Childhood, is very accurate. I’ve read a few of Gary Paulsen’s books over the years – Hatchet, Brian’s Winter and Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Gone to the Woods was his memoir about growing up with two alcoholic parents. The book is told in third person, which initially struck me as odd, but I think it was a way for Paulsen to distance himself from some of the horrors of his childhood. His grandmother had him removed from his mother during World War II when his father was away, and his mother was working in factories in Chicago. His mother spent her free time getting drunk and having a good time with various men. Paulsen had a wonderful time living with his aunt and uncle in northern Minnesota. It’s there that he was taught how to hunt, fish and live off the land. It broke my heart when his mother showed up and demanded that he leave with her. They were going to the Philippines to live with his father, an Army officer. His parents spent their days arguing and drinking and completely ignored him. He saw things in Manila that no child should ever experience. Even after his family returned to the U.S., his parents continued their drinking and complete indifference to Gary. He didn’t fit in at school and had difficulty learning. His only refuge was to go the woods. One cold day he decided to get warm in the library and that was the start of his friendship with a librarian and a love for books.
The world lost a great writer when Gary Paulsen died earlier this year. One of my resolutions for 2022 is to read more of his books.
Profile Image for Rose (Adventurous Bookworm).
645 reviews90 followers
February 5, 2021
Wow. Growing up reading Hatchet every year for school, I knew a little of where Gary Paulsen came from (thanks to the 25th-anniversary edition). When I saw a chance to review this book, I jumped right on board.
The first thing that stuck out to me about Gone to the Woods was the writing style. It was quite similar to the one in Hatchet but it was a bit choppy due to fragmented sentences. This got old pretty quick considering the length of this book.
However, the story really drew me in. There was so much that Gary went through as a kid and it was quite moving.
I absolutely loved Gary's reaction of finishing his first book and the library.
This book is marketed as middle-grade, but I do not recommend it to middle-grade readers. It deals with a lot of difficult and mature topics (domestic violence, abuse, violence of war, mentions std's, drinking issues).
Rating: 3.5/5
Language: a**, d***, p***
Violence: see above
Romance: n/a
Spiritual: n/a
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own and a positive review was not required.
Profile Image for High Plains Library District.
626 reviews73 followers
April 26, 2021
This vividly detailed memoir explains the genesis of Paulsen’s love for the woods and describes his incredibly adventuresome life. It reads like a children’s adventure story, like Lost in the Barrens (Farley Mowat), even though it’s a true story. The chapters/episodes of his life would seem disparate but for the lyrical writing, which reminded me of The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings). And it’s written in that short sentence, brutally honest fashion that brings to mind Julie of the Wolves (Jean Craighead George). He manages to describe horrific events in a manner that is still appropriate for kids.

The only slightly off-putting part of the book is that it was written in the third person (“the boy”), which I found distracting. On the other hand, being a librarian, the librarian-as-salvation story made me cry:

“He wrote for the librarian with the warm smile. Even after she was gone and he was living in new places, living new ways, even then he carried the notebook with a blue cover and a yellow pencil and wrote all he saw and did and could remember.

Always for the librarian with the warm smile.

Who first showed him how to read the whole book.”
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,380 reviews34 followers
December 30, 2021
Gary Paulsen is best known for his adventure novels for YA readers such as the Hatchet series, Dogsong, Woods Runner and The Rifle, but in this memoir, he shares stories from his childhood that inspired some of his books. Born to neglectful and alcoholic parents, Paulsen stays with a loving aunt and uncle as a child where he discovers his love of the outdoors. Later reunited with his parents, he lives in the Philippines with them, as his father is a soldier stationed there after WWII. The family then moves to Minnesota and Paulsen often runs away to work as a farmhand (why didn't he ever go back to his Aunt Edy & Uncle Sig???), before eventually enlisting in the army himself. He was incredibly resilient, and I have to wonder, what makes some people able to rise above their situation, where others become trapped by their circumstances? This book is an interesting look at the life of an incredible author that passed away earlier this year.
Profile Image for Julie Suzanne.
1,880 reviews69 followers
May 16, 2022
Wow, I'd definitely NOT say that this is middle grade. Maybe mature 7th graders and up. Paulsen lived quite a life; it was really rough but he's a survivor. I always wanted more or different, which is why I can't give it 5 stars, but I did thoroughly enjoy and appreciate this, especially the library love. Paulsen has quite a gift for giving enough detail to actually taste the food he's savoring, to hear every crackle of the fire, but for the big events and experiences, like how long he lived in Manila, why he never went back to Eith and Sid, what school was like for the first 14 years of his life, if he went to school, etc. he scrimps on the details. There could be 10 pages on his first night camping, so alive on the page that it feels like I'm there, and then so many years just fly by and vague references to important things....

It's a great memoir, especially for fans of Paulsen and even those who aren't. It's unlike any other I've read.
Profile Image for Allison.
723 reviews21 followers
December 22, 2020
If you have been a child or teacher in the last 35 years you have probably been exposed to Gary Paulsen’s young adult tale of survival, Hatchet. The gritty realism and page-turning intensity of that book has kept it in print and spawned a whole genre. Gone to the Woods, the story behind the author, is another tale of gritty realism. It begins when “The Boy” as he describes himself, is 5 years old and is put on a train in New York City during wartime to spend the summer working on a farm with his grandparents in Minnesota. Life is hard but it was the beginning of Paulsen’s love affair with Nature. This interlude is wonderful as we see the beginning of a relationship of trust and love between the boy and his grandparents. The writing is captivating; we learn how to catch and gut a fish, how to plow a field and how to face down a flock of angry geese. However this period was over too soon when he is removed without warning by his mother and returned to the nightmare of living with abusive alcoholic parents. .
What might destroy a weaker spirit only makes The Boy stronger, but it is a strength built on solitude and suspicion. As a parent and teacher, my heart ached for this child and his hardscrabble life, but as a librarian I couldn’t help but make a connection with the role of the library in turning his life in a new direction. It is a testament to the power of books, and everyone reading this story will make that same connection.
Is this a true story? In checking on Wikipedia, it appears there are some discrepancies in the chronology here and the biography presented in the reference source, but I wouldn’t let that spoil your enjoyment of this book. It is a story of resiliency and character that might inspire a young person and certainly entertained this old one.
Profile Image for Pam.
99 reviews2 followers
January 25, 2021
Wow! What a life! This is Gary Paulsen's biography written in the third person. The audience is middle school. I enjoyed it so much because I've read so many of his books, and now I know where they all have come from.
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