Book Review: 'This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares and Laughing Dinosaurs'

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gary Paulsen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 144 pp. $16.99.

Growing up, I read books like "Hatchet" and "Brian's Song." I'm pretty sure his books are in the canon of nearly every middle or high school English class. They've become classics, especially in a lesson of "man versus nature" literature.

Paulsen's latest book will likely be as much of a classic. This one, however, is not a novel. In "This Side of Wild," Paulsen recounts his own experiences of life as an adventurer and explorer, highlighting each account with the animal that came into his life -- or played a significant role in the story.

Reading this book was like going to visit an old teacher you hadn't seen for a long time, but who is still teaching in the same school you attended. Paulsen's writing style is like the hallways of the school -- not much has changed and walking through them brings back the happy memories only time can soften around the edges. But the stories are the voice of the teacher. You've both grown over the years, and had new experiences and learned new lessons. He wants to tell you about them, and you want to listen.

Young adult literature is more popular than ever, at least from what I can see. But I appreciate that Paulsen's latest book is nonfiction. Memoir is an incredibly important form of literature, and it can be just as interesting and dramatic as novels. Until recently, there hasn't been much in the way of memoirs geared toward young adults. It makes me happy that Paulsen gets this. He is telling stories of himself as a younger man, but he is not a teenager or child when he has these experiences. The result is a man reaching his audience with respect, but at a level that isn't pretentious or assuming. It's just about perfect.

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