Into the Forest by Jean Hegland is a beautifully written example of what could feasibly happen to two young girls left to their own devices in a very likely post-apocalyptic world.
Eva and Nell have their dreams and aspirations; Nell aspires for Harvard matriculation, and Eva has her mind set on being a professional ballerina, but both girls also have to face the crushing reality that none of these goals will come to pass. Why? There is no electricity.
Seems odd that the world would come to its knees because of such a trivial thing, right? But Hegland writes this state of affairs so realistically that it’s compelling. And, she writes people too. People who panic amongst an uncertain future, people who are desperate, people who are dangerous, and people, like these sisters, who need to learn how to survive with the elements, but mostly with each other. The book is at times slightly off guard. I did wonder if two seventeen year olds could be as resourceful as Hegland writes Eva and Nell to be. But then, the story is one of survival of the fittest and so they are an example of such.
There is a type of eroticism throughout the book in multiple forms. With Nell and her boyfriend, and between the sisters too, but it is delivered in a believable voice and one that truly connects the reader to a dark world where the known reality is questionable. Slowly throughout the book we see the forest, at first a source of fear for the girls, become a place where life prevails despite the human struggle. Beautifully introduced, are references to flora and fauna that will help the girls survive. Their knowledge of how to live in their new world, while remnants of their old life plague them, is a brilliant coming of age story.
To this end, the book’s finale is particularly poignant. The girls do come into womanhood, but not in the traditional sense, and with many, many unusual challenges along the way. The story of their journey is thus a spiritual one, as well as a tale of fortitude under extremity.
This was a great read!