I Am Still Alive

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
I Am Still Alive Book Poster Image
Teen survives alone in the wilderness in gripping thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Filled with wilderness survival skills that readers will hopefully never have to use: building a shelter from things found in the woods and in the ruins of a cabin, starting a fire without matches, foraging for food.

Positive Messages

Jess' father told her: "If you want something, you can make it happen."

Positive Role Models & Representations

While readers aren't likely to face any of the challenges Jess confronts in the novel, the way she tackles them can be applied to almost any reader's life. Before she acts, she takes time to make a plan. What should she do first and what can wait until later? She understands that making smart decisions can often be better than being physically strong. Most important, Jess is determined, and while she may stop for a cry now and then, she always moves forward.

Violence

The murder of Jess' father and the shooting of several men are briefly described in somewhat bloody detail, and there are vivid descriptions of how to skin a rabbit and butcher a deer.

Sex
Language

A few uses of "a--hole," "pissed," "hell," and "Jesus."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer a few times, and one character is known as a heavy drinker.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kate Alice Marshall's thriller I Am Still Alive is the story of 16-year-old Jess Cooper, who finds herself alone (along with a wolf dog named Bo) in the Canadian wilderness after the murder of her father. The novel moves back and forth between the time before her father's murder (the death of Jess' mother in an automobile accident that left her with injuries from which she's not yet recovered, and being sent to live with a survivalist father she barely remembers) and after it (Jess' struggle to survive a brutal fall and winter in the wilderness and her confrontation with his killers). A murder and several killings are described in brief but bloody detail, and readers who are animal lovers are likely to find vivid descriptions of skinning a rabbit and butchering a deer disturbing. A hard-to-put-down read with a strong, determined, and relatable teen heroine.

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What's the story?

I AM STILL ALIVE are the words that 16-year-old Jess Cooper keeps repeating to herself. With only a wolf dog named Bo for company, she finds herself alone in the Canadian wilderness after the murder of her father. Her life in Seattle had been upended after a car crash that killed her mother and left Jess with an injured leg and scarred face. When the court insists on reuniting Jess with the father she hasn't seen since she was 4, she's sent off to live with him in Alaska. But Jess' secretive survivalist father isn't in Alaska, he's moved to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness that's only accessible by seaplane. The reunion doesn't go well, as Jess has no intention of staying in a two-room cabin in the middle of nowhere and having to hunt and fish to feed herself. But her father refuses to let her leave, striking a she-really-can't-say-no deal with her: Stay until the next summer, and if she still wants to leave, she can. But before summer's end, her father is murdered and their cabin burned to the ground. Jess is left alone with only a few clothes, a bow and arrow, a hatchet, a can of peaches, and a can of salmon. By smart thinking and using the survival skills her father taught her in the weeks they were together, she and Bo manage to keep themselves alive until the next summer. But will Jess also survive the return of the men who killed her father?

Is it any good?

This spine-tingling, hard-to-put-down teen-against-the-wilderness survival tale includes a strong message about the power of smart thinking and determination. I Am Still Alive does require readers to suspend belief when a convenient plot twist appears, but those instances are outweighed by the sheer volume of factual detail the author offers on things like how to build a weather-resistant shelter and hunt and fish for food. While the story may be set in the wilds of Canada, the lessons it imparts about believing in yourself in tough times, taking time to make a plan, and always moving forward are valuable ones for any reader.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what I Am Still Alive taught them about being determined and resourceful. What personal qualities do you share with Jess that would let you survive in a difficult and challenging situation?

  • Would you ever consider living off the grid, far away from any town? What would the biggest challenges be for you and your family?

  • Did it make you angry that Jess' father refused to let her return to Seattle? What would you have done if you were Jess?

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