Romance and self-discovery in the great outdoors

Most of the time I read fantasy or paranormal novels for young adults as well as adults, but every once in a while I also read contemporary romance novels. However, I never read a book like The distance from me to you (by Marina Gessner) before. A book about a girl that decides to go hiking on her own and discovers her own strengths, as well as a love that almost seems fated. Let me first give you the description of this book and then I will tell you what I thought about this one (little spoiler: it was freaking awesome!)

McKenna Berney is a lucky girl. She has a loving family and has been accepted to college for the fall. But McKenna has a different goal in mind: much to the chagrin of her parents, she defers her college acceptance to hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia with her best friend. And when her friend backs out, McKenna is determined to go through with the dangerous trip on her own. While on the Trail, she meets Sam. Having skipped out on an abusive dad and quit school, Sam has found a brief respite on the Trail, where everyone’s a drifter, at least temporarily.

Despite lives headed in opposite directions, McKenna and Sam fall in love on an emotionally charged journey of dizzying highs and devastating lows. When their punch-drunk love leads them off the trail, McKenna has to persevere in a way she never thought possible to beat the odds or risk both their lives.

McKenna is a really well-developed and great character. She’s nice, absolutely fearless, brave, determined and doesn’t give up. Ever since she was in high school she has wanted to walk the Apalachian Trail, a hiking route of some 3000 km from Maine to Georgia that leads through mountains, forests and endless stretches of wild nature. She always planned on going with her best friend, but at the last moment her friend backs out. McKenna decides to hike the Trail on her own and makes her friend promiss to pretend as if she went along on the trip.

The hike is beautifully described. The reader doesn’t get all the details, which was fine by me because otherwise the book would have become a bit longwinded, I think. Instead the reader only experiences the special moments on McKenna’s trip. Her ups and downs and her self-discovery along the way, which makes for a great read.

On her trip McKenna runs into Sam, another hiker. Sam is walking the Trail for entirely different reasons than McKenna. When his father burns Sam with a cigarette for the umpteenth time, Sam snaps and hits his father, discovering that he is stronger than his father for the first time. But this strength doesn’t bring him any joy. Instead Sam wonders what has become of his life. His mother killed herself, his brother left him behind with their abusive father, and he himself has accomplished nothing (according to himself). Without further thought Sam packs a few clothes, an old tent and a sleepingbag and sets out on the Apalachian Trail. When he gets to the end he still doesn’t know what to do with his life and he turns around to walk the Trail again. On this second trip he runs into McKenna, an innocent girl who walks the Trail alone.

The relationship between these two very different characters is really beautiful. McKenna tries to be nice to Sam but he makes it very difficult. Sometimes he’s kind and funny, while other times he’s moody and cruel. But there’s just something about this boy that speaks to McKenna’s heart. Sam can’t seem to figure McKenna out. She seems to have everything in life: she’s got a loving family, friends, enough money and all the opportunities to make something of her life and yet she’s walking this dangerous Trail on her own. However, opposites do attract and Sam and McKenna can’t seem to help falling for eachother.

The ending of this book will leave you with teary eyes and a broken heart, yet at the same time with a hopeful feeling. I won’t spoil what happens. but will suffice to say that for one of the characters the hike will end in a disaster, ripping the two characters apart. However, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel because both characters will find their strengths and joys in life, eventhough they may not end up together at the close of the book.

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