The Barrens

- Kurt Johnson & Ellie Johnson

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Two young women attending college decide to have a summer adventure canoeing the rapids-strewn Thelon River that runs 450 miles through the uninhabited Barren Lands of subarctic Canada. Holly made the trip once before with a group of skilled paddlers she trained with at camp, and she wants to share that experience with her friend and lover, Lee, believing it will draw them closer. But a week in, Holly, the risk-taker, falls while taking a selfie near the edge of a cliff. She is left injured and comatose, and soon dies. Their locator beacon for summoning rescue was smashed in Holly’s fall. It remains to Lee, the inexperienced paddler, to continue the grueling and dangerous trip alone, to save herself and return her lover’s body to civilization and Holly’s family.

In their relationship, Holly and Lee had always told each other stories; Lee had called Holly a “storyist.” Storytelling helps Lee endure the rigors of her journey and engage her grief as she explores her relationship with Holly while chronicling her own coming-of-age off the grid in Nebraska with her estranged eco-anarchist father, who is now serving time in prison.


My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Arcade Publishing for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.

enjoyable/easy to read:
The Barrens is an unforgettable backwoods adventure story, with a slightly morbid twist.

Lee is an incredibly complex protagonist; her entire life is one long survival story. While I love a good hiking story, I probably enjoyed the flashbacks to her upbringing even more. Lee’s off-the-grid conspiracy theorist single father was just hands-on enough to teach her how to survive in the wilderness and hands-off enough to leave her feeling pretty alone in the world.

While I wanted to be on board with Lee & Holly’s relationship, most of the development happens after Holly dies. They’re both so reserved, particularly Lee, and they don’t really know each other very well – despite their decision to tackle this dangerous and isolated journey together. Lee doesn’t truly open up until she starts speaking to Holly while she’s in a coma and then continues after she dies. While this adds to The Barrens‘ narrative, it detracts from the “love story“.

I am a sucker for any story that takes place deep in the wilderness, and The Barrens is no exception. The writing was a little too simplistic with a lot of telling and not much showing, but I enjoyed the story.

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