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on August 30, 2004
I'm a big fan of post holocaust fiction. I've read hundreds of stories over the past 40 years about Life after Doomsday. This is absolutely one of the best. It avoids the common assumptions of the genre. There is no sudden and dramatic change in the lives of the two young protagonists. There isn't an immediate awareness on the part of the community that something awful and terrifying is occurring. People don't suddenly go berserk. Marauding gangs of psychopaths don't appear out of nowhere to prey upon the vulnerability of their fellow citizens. Every character, every behavior, every reaction is believable and easily explained within the context of known human behavior. Everyone initially clings desperately to the belief that things haven't really changed, that the situation isn't that bad, that tomorrow, things will all return to normal. It's just a matter of holding on and continuing with their daily routines.

Hegland's placing of Nell and her sister Eva in a forest, far from the nearest town, was a brilliant device on many levels. Normally, doomsday writers place their protagonists right in the thick of things. They trap them in cities or situations where they can inflict upon them every supposedly predictable terror of life after the collapse, showing us clearly frightened people in clearly frightening times.

But Nell and Eva live in a quiet forest. The forest isn't just a location here. It's not there just to show us the girls' gardening skills or how to live a self-sufficient life. The forest is a major, living, breathing protagonist. Hegland renders it's character brilliantly. It is both serene and tumultuous, comforting and menancing, fiercely protective and neglectful. Placing Nell and her sister in this quiet, slow environment creates a constant sense of dread and tension in the story - what unknowable things are going on outside this ageless, unjudgmental sanctuary? What horrors are taking place? Are cities burning? Has the law of the jungle replaced the fragile contracts between people? Is inescapable death slowing overtaking mankind? Are all the horrors imaginable about to invade this oasis of calm, and when and how will they come? The little intrusions of the outside world that do occur are more terrifying as a result. The forest doesn't protect Nell and Eva from evil. It wreaks no havoc on transgressors, it passes no judgments, it doesn't change or adapt. "Bring it on" it seems to say. "I will not be changed. I will simply out last you, neutralize you with my steadfastness, absord your impact and accept it as part of my nature."

The forest is a sort of allegory for the the human spirit. Primieval, indestructable and unchanging, it survives despite the modern mistakes of humankind.

I disagree strongly with the reviewer who says this is not an inspirational story. It is a story filled with hope and promise. Strip away the false values, the intellectualism, the materialism and the intolerance that are so much a part of the modern human's psyche, and you are left with what got us this far to begin with, and what will save us in the end - a sense of beauty, perseverance, tolerance and acceptance of the world as it is.

It's a beautiful, poetically written story, and well worth a place on anyone's bookshelf.
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on August 15, 2002
I found the premise of this book to be eerily fascinating and frightening. It hooked me from the first page and I could not put it down. This was very fast and interesting reading, except for one totally unnecessary scene which those of you who have read it will undoubtedly remember.
"Into the Forest" is what has been called "speculative fiction" and is set in the near-future, focusing on two teenage orphaned sisters. The girls try to survive the collapse, for no apparent reason, of their world and society as they knew it. All of a sudden, tankers do not arrive at gas stations, electricity disappears, law and order become a thing of the past, and there is no communication.
Living in the forest in Northern California, Nell and Eva struggle to survive in an often -alien environment as they try to adjust to isolation. Once they deplete the pantry in their house, feeding themselves is a daily challenge, as is their need to conquer overwhelming feelings of despair.
The author gradually builds the story to the point where the reader realizes that every single action these young girls perform is related to their continued survival. I think that this book provided food for thought, making me cringe at how dependent we all are on today's technology. I appreciated Hegland's knowledge of the uses of forest plants and berries, and of food preservation.
Like Paul Watkins' "Archangel" and Stephen King's "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon", the forest is a major character in the story.
I fear that I would not be a survivor.
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on March 22, 2003
I found the reviews almost as interesting as the book. The book gave me much to think about. I think it was a highly probable premise: that society could collapse because of our voracious consumerism and the wars that rage at all times. I agree with those who said the author's prose was beautiful and delightful to read. I understand the comments about the lack of development of some of the characters, and the convenient location of the heroines far from the riots of civilization collapse. However, it allowed for the development of changes the characters experienced in the face of their isolation and dependence on their own resources. I don't think this book was anti-religious, nor do I think the sexual encounter between the two sisters was really about sex. I think it was about humans needing each other, and expressing that need in the one of the few ways we know. I also think this was ultimately a novel about change and learning to adapt. It was not saying that one way of life is better than another, but saying that all ways of life can be beautiful when you're willing to embrace what is, instead of resisting changes you don't like. It made me think about what is essential to life. In this book it boiled down to food, clothing, shelter and relationship. It made me consider how I have lost the ability to fend for myself in this world of conveniences and yet, how the world could still provide for me if the conveniences were to end. It reinforced my respect and gratitude for nature. It also got me interested in noticing and learning more about what is in the natural world for my benefit.
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on February 3, 2003
The writing is beautiful and a joy to read. If for no other reason, this book deserves to be read for the craft and poetry imbedded in Ms. Hegland's prose. The story begins with a family of four that includes two daughters. One of them, Seventeen-year-old Nellie, the younger of the two sisters is the protagonist and the story line unfolds through her experiences and perceptions. Eva, who is older than Nellie by only a year, is initially only a backdrop but evolves into a more significant role as the plot progresses.
After reading the book I found it difficult to decide whether it was an odyssey or a fable, and maybe it's both. The environment for the story and the motivation that drives the plot line is the total failure of civilization's infrastructure. The family lives in an undetermined wilderness area, thirty miles from the nearest town, Redwood, which is remarkably similar in description to Healdsburg the author's hometown.
The story unfolds through a logical progression from problem through crises to climax and resolution. The emotional content includes denial, bestiality, fear, loss, love, depression and happiness, portrayed as randomly as it occurs in real life. We all grow up, traverse emotions similar to these, and then realize we are alone in ourselves and mostly we prevail by means of courage, resourcefulness and perseverance which are also in the story.
I used the verb `portrayed' rather than `told' intentionally, because to read this book is to live the story as it unfolds in your mind. It is said that a good story creates a dream state for the reader and it was true for me with this book. Half way through the book I woke one morning from an anxiety dream involving the dangers of living in the country as we do. So I was living the book. The author accomplished this by letting me experience events as they would occur and not as they might be told.
This is a story written from the first person perspective of a young woman and it is about the issues that she and her sister have as women. I began to wonder as I read whether this was a book written for women or for everyone. It does focus on abilities not usually required of women in today's society. However their obstacles in the story were universal. A man might deal with them differently, but he would still have to deal with them. We need to remember that protected young civilized women, who are products of a relatively affluent society would react much differently than other ages or the other gender, and so goes the story. Furthermore, it is thought provoking to consider our exposure regardless of gender to a collapse of the infrastructure that we take for granted.
Several things bothered me as I read. What happens to the father is predicted fairly early, but I had to wait quite a while to learn what it was. I also had a hard time tolerating the lack of information about the disaster, whatever it was. For me, how I would react and what I did would depend to a large extent upon what was going on in the world. And the absence of men for most of the book unbalanced the story for me, but that was probably because of my own gender. Finally the ending was too flamboyant and illogical for me. Although, I have to conclude that these criticisms disappear when the story is taken as a metaphorical fable.
I haven't heard the name, Nellie used during my time in the 20th century. And ballet dancers use Marlee to create a dance floor, not Mylar. But these are really nits.
The writing in this book makes it a piece of art in my view. That it raises more questions than it resolves only increases its value for me. It's not a lightweight story. Reading it will engage some serious emotions.
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on April 11, 2005
At first sight you could call this a SF novel with the classical ingredients. Something happened: a nuclear war? an accident with a biological weapon? Anyway it seems that public live has ceased to exist. There is no electricity, no TV or radio and everyone seems to have gone.

Two young sisters, who lost their parents, live in a cottage deep in the woods of North-California. As a result of what happened they're cut off completely until one day a young man comes to their house and he stays for a while. After he's gone, the two sisters gradually change into a more 'primitive' way of life with a different perception (more elaborated as time goes by) of their surroundings. (To some degree, it reminds me of the novel 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding).

But when you think it over, you could say it's a parable about growing up. The arrival of the young man drives them out of the 'Paradise' of their childhood and this starts the process of growing up. They don't turn into 'primitive' humans, they only lose their innocence. They become more mature and finally venture out of their cottage where they used to live for so long.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were other interpretations. It's a characteristic of masterworks to be interpreted in different ways
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on July 31, 1998
"Into the Forest" is the first novel in many years that I've been compelled to read in a single day. Jean Hegland's story of two teenage sisters facing the end of the world as we know it is told in a style that's as natural and ultimately mysterious as the redwood forest that surrounds their home. The descriptions of the gradual breakdown of civilation have a terrible fascination to them -- like news reports of a natural disaster that one doesn't want to see, yet can't turn away from.
Though the novel does contain feminist themes, this shouldn't deter men from reading and enjoying this novel completely. The book is for anyone interested in apocalyptic fiction or stories about survival in hardship, the loss of dreams, and the tenuous bonds linking families and society together.
Nell and Eva's progress from dependence to desperation and ultimate self-sufficiency left me both frightened for my reliance upon the modern world and grateful for what I have and e! njoy. This novel would make an excellent choice for a well-known talkshow host's book club -- and Hegland certainly deserves the recognition it would bring.
Don't wait for the movie (which will surely be on the way soon). "Into the Forest" is a powerful end-of-the-millennium read -- and I suspect the images and emotions in it will stay with me for years to come.
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on October 18, 2001
Very good read. Thought-provoking, with relatively well developed characters. I've always been very fascinated with the dynamics of relationships between family members. In this book the relationship between the two teenage sisters is heightened by the fact that they become increasingly isolated from the world, having each other and no one else to turn to. What fascinates me about this book is not that it is a reallistic description of impending world doom, but rather that the psychological world created by the two sisters is very engaging. Sometimes it is very moving and fascinating at the same time. From the reviews I've read, there were a few that express their disgust about the incestuous incident between them, calling it irrelevant, unnecessary and unlogical. Let me tell you that according to recent surveys, sex between siblings as an exploratory sexual act is much more prevalent than you think or be prepared to admit. I even know about a case of a friend of mine who made love to her sister after having been dumped by her boyfriend... Call it grief, call it solace, call it incomprehensible, but sometimes the need for love from someone you trust with your life is stronger than our society's taboos.
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on July 15, 2004
This is a wonderful book. I am not prone to crying while reading a novel, but Hegland brings the characters so close to you, that I felt I was suffering with them. This is a novel that encourages you to preserve and cherish the natural world ...including yourself and your loved ones. And it reminds you that we are certainly overlooking the really beautiful and fundamental gifts from nature to grab at unnecessary things in this so-called civilization in which we live. This novel makes you want to turn inward, disconnect your phone, and absorb all the preserved knowledge that you can ingest. It made me want to fast on `white tea' ... just to remind myself. And it reminds the reader that nations can come and go, but mankind is much stronger and far more beautiful when pressed to accept his true nature. For instance, Eva's civilized and refined dancer's stamina pales and appears weak in comparison to her endurance of pain during childbirth. As Eva groans against the violent pain, Nell thinks ... "They are sounds that move the earth, the sounds that give voice to the deep, violent fissures in the bark of the redwoods. They are the sounds of splitting cells, of bonding atoms, the sounds of the waxing moon and the forming stars".
I don't think readers should get caught up in the 'feminist' aspect or the 'plausibility of plot' concept. I think that even a man could see himself through Nell's view of the world. And I believe that the framework of the plot just serves as a springboard for exploring the human experience in a certain light. I hated to finish the book because I felt that I was losing a friend or at least moving away from home. Beautiful work!
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on June 1, 2000
After I had read -- and been mesmerized by -- this novel, I urged a friend to take it home to read. She returned it the next day saying she just couldn't continue past the first few pages because it spoke so strongly to her darkest fears. And there is darkness and despair in this story of two young sisters, Eve and Nell, living alone in a remote, forested area of California. Nell, 17 and the narrator, and Eva, 18, have lost their mother to cancer, their father to an accident. Due to a series of worldwide natural catastrophes, wars, and civil unrest, they are without electricity, telephone and a ready food supply. Through rumors, they hear that people have begun to die of drug-resistant diseases, and the world's inhabitants are descending day by day into a more primal existence.
Beyond the darkness, there is fascination in the constitution of a survivor. Is it strength of character, resourcefulness, luck, the simple desire to endure? Nell and Eva possess between them all these qualities and their struggle is heroic. Hegland's stark and eloquent prose make this a truly compelling book.
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on August 2, 2002
Despite the painful premise of this book (the breakdown of our lifesytles as consumers), this is such an empowering book--not just for women, but for all of us. The hardships the characters endure and survive and then their eventual triumph and merging with the forest put the reader through a gamut of emotions, some horrifying, some breathtaking.
I am an English professor who teaches an Environmental Literature course, and this fall, I will have this book on the reading list. The many reasons include:
--believable characters as young people who rise to the occasion
--a spring board for thinking about our place in this modern world and how we have overused resources
--a point of departure for discussions about the very real possibility that we could run out of fossil fuels, etc. and how would we as individuals cope?
--a way to discuss how we can get more intimate with our surroundings in nature before an apocaplyse...can we turn off our TVs and computers and study plants, see spirit in nature, and dream the dreams of trees and bears?
Anyway...I know my students will enjoy it as much as I did.
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