A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know this bestseller was intended for adult readers, but teens may want to read it, thanks to the release of the movie adaptation directed by Sean Penn. Readers will find lots of hitchhiking, discussions of an adulterous relationship, challenges between father and son, and a family's uncertainty of a son's whereabouts and grief upon hearing of his death. The author talks of his own experiences on a high-risk climb in Alaska (including smoking a joint and setting part of his tent on fire).
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What's the story?
From the start, the reader learns of Chris McCandless' death and how he was found. Slowly the story unravels in a piecemeal chronological fashion. The reader learns of his upbringing in a wealthy family living in Virginia; meets the members of his family and discovers the causes for challenging relationships; and tails him on his wanderings that started soon after high school graduation.
In college he becomes more distanced from his parents, especially his father, and without any communication after graduation he begins his journey. The reader learns of the places he visited, relationships he formed, the letters he wrote, and his family's reaction to his death. Krakauer parallels this experience with others who have sought adventure, including himself.
Is it any good?
It's a chilling read and one that can't be put down, but it may not be appropriate for sensitive teen readers or any teens without the maturity to see past the adventure. Overall, parents who have enjoyed it and passed it on to their teens will have much to discuss.
Jon Krakauer, who admits that he identifies with Chris McCandless, carefully follows the bread-crumb trail of McCandless' flight from home after college graduation. He recognizes the recklessness of the young man's behavior and naiveté of his actions, but also describes his brilliance and thoughtfulness. Without over sentimentalizing, he recognizes that most people would not have the wits, intelligence, or internal strength to live as McCandless did for those two years. Ultimately, McCandless made a tragic mistake; one that may not have been made if he had more experience living in the bush, brought a companion, or had a means of communication.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about risk behaviors, including the dangers of hitchhiking and living in a remote area on your own. Parents can ask their teens about their own wanderlust. What is the lure of a wilderness adventure? Or would you rather tour foreign cities? How can this sense adventure be satisfied while being safe? What are specific precautions you should take as a young traveler?