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Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home Hardcover – March 19, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Author One-on-One: Karen Russell and Leigh Newman

Karen RussellLeigh Newman

Leigh and I first met working on a piece of mine about a dog named Waffles. Today we got to sit down and talk about her astonishing new memoir, Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey Home—Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia.

Karen Russell: I’m always interested in what happens when kids escape the big people in charge. You were left to your own devices on the tundra as child. How you think that affected you?

Leigh Newman: Knowing how to take care of yourself in the wilderness was the biggest lesson my dad ever taught me—and one he taught me over and over. He wanted me to know what to do if I ran into a grizzly or if I needed to make a fire or if I fell into a river (float downstream, feet first). I don’t think he was alone in this. Self-reliance is the greatest Alaskan quality. You see it in just about every Alaskan you meet, whether they happened to be hunting for food for the winter or figuring out how to build an outhouse. For me it was a crucial skill after my parent’s divorce, when I began commuting between my mother and father at age seven, flying 5,000 miles between Anchorage and Baltimore, Maryland.

KR: You tell a lot of survival stories about bears in your tent and airplanes falling out of the sky, but there's a lot of family stuff too, about your parent's divorce. How do the two subjects relate?

LN: Well, I’m never going to say that not dying isn’t wonderful. It is! None of us wants to die. But I do think surviving takes a lot of out of you. Once the Super Cub has restarted or the bear has wandered off and it appears that you will get to live a little more, the impulse is to keep going—not to stop and talk and share your feelings. And when it came to my parent’s divorce and my mom’s depression and breakdowns, I think we may have approached these events as if they were plane crash. We got out of the wreck of our family, stunned, and just kept marching on. Our situation took place, for the most part, in the wilderness, so in that sense it was extreme, but I think there are many, many people out there in the world who have used this same approach in more domesticated settings. It leads to competency—you are marching after all—but I’m not sure if it leads to happiness.

KR: You write a lot of short fiction, why did you write a memoir instead of novel?

LN: A memoir was probably the last thing on earth I’d ever want to do. But generally speaking, those are probably the things that you most need to do.

KR: One of the biggest surprises in the Still Points North is the love story between you and your husband. How did that get in a book about Alaska?

LN: The book, to me, was always meant as a love letter to Alaska and to my family, despite our many struggles. I was lucky enough to grow up in place I not just adored but revered. And when I left home, I look all those lessons from the wilderness with me—not just on my travels around the world, but in my relationships. So poor Lawrence not only had deal with my semi-feral sense of independence and all consuming, gut-knotting terror of marriage, but also various wacko Alaskan “tests” I created. Like eating rare mallard. Or finishing a 13k cross-country ski in the pitch black at 10 below zero.

From Booklist

As a child of divorce, Newman was raised on two coasts: fishing and camping with her father in Anchorage, and navigating museums and private school in Baltimore with her mother. Although she relishes sharing details of her wilderness adventures, it is the emotional turmoil wrought by the demise of her parent’s marriage that dominates the book. Newman has crafted a vivid exploration of a broken family, recording episodes of hurt feelings, miscommunication, and more than a few emotional outbursts by a mother who struggled with her own history of parental trauma and a father whose choices did not always include the child from his first marriage. To be certain, there is more than one side to this story, and Newman’s is steadfastly her own, full of the pathos all children endure when their lives are upturned. Her pain will resonate strongly with readers, and she vividly brings both Alaska and Maryland to life. She spares herself no mercy, making it clear that wounds from childhood take decades, and deep understanding, to heal. A natural for book clubs. --Colleen Mondor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069248
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Leigh Newman's memoir Still Points North is a beautifully written book about a girl struggling to find a true home in the midst of a tumultuous childhood, and the woman she grows up to be. After her parent's divorce she splits her time between her father in her native Alaska -- fishing, hunting, camping -- and her mother in Baltimore -- trying to keep her head above water in a world she doesn't quite understand. I find very few people can write from the prospective of children (especially themselves as a child) well, off the top of my head Alexandra Fuller's amazing book Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight springs to mind, but Newman perfectly walks the line between childlike naivete and mature introspection, allowing the reader to really sink into her life. The prose is clean and interesting, and each chapter is full of fantastic lines and observations you'll want to bookmark to find again.

Anyone looking for an incredibly well written and thoughtful memoir that is harrowing (there are several near-death experiences in the Alaskan bush), and moving would be remiss not to pick up a copy of Still Points North. I've been reading it at a breakneck pace and can't recommend it enough.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Liegh Newman has the Saturday pancake smile and twinkle-in-the-eye of a tomboy who grew into her own unique version of womanhood. I feel like she wrote this book for me, for us - her peers who grew up loving the outdoors with our dads, then moved away in pursuit of professional dreams and complicated, urban lives. The story made me nostalgic and long for a simpler time of community and connectedness, to our families, to our friends and to the earth. Thank you Leigh for reminding me that the journey that starts from home can help me find my way back to who I really am. Pick up a copy today and dive into the delicious nostalgia!
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This isn't the type of book I would recommend to anyone depressed. It has some funny parts, but most of it is sad. I felt sorry for Leigh; the way she grew up and how it effected her adult life. It is well written and allows the reader a chance to get to know the author.
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Format: Hardcover
I was completely engaged by Leigh Newman's New York Times Modern Love essay a few years back. So I couldn't wait to read the memoir elucidating her whole rugged, complicated upbringing in Alaska. Some short pieces are not meant to be expanded but "Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey" did not disappoint. In fact I was even more fascinated by the idiosyncratic, rich details of Newman's entire back story. "Still Points North" is an intriguing mix of wilderness travel adventure, old-fashioned domestic drama from a child's innocent eye, and contemporary urban love poetry -with a happy though realistic ending for grown-ups. It's all blended together so beautifully that it winds up being a page-turner too. Newman's voice is so well-drawn and compelling it's hard to believe it's her first book. An impressive, masterful debut.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I’ve tried writing from the perspective of a child and can attest that it isn’t easy for an adult to stay consistently in a young person’s mind, to sound believable, and still be insightful and engaging. It’s a balancing act that Newman has mastered. Even in the voice of her younger self, she inspires, challenges, and makes you fall in love with her.

Newman’s silent cry for love and acceptance from her divorced parents had a haunting effect on me, perhaps because I, too, am a product of divorce and the back-and-forth routine. That said, her story is incredibly unique, and her experiences in Alaska, at times life-threatening, make you open your eyes wide and hold your breath.

In addition to her beautiful writing and the delicacy with which she portrays human nature, Newman lands with a solid and satisfying ending. Still Points North is a worthy and entertaining read!
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I wanted to like this book, and I kept trying. The beginning is a lot about her childhood and Alaska, and also Maryland. But then she gets into her life as an adult and relationships, and my problem with it was that the book jumped around a lot. I only read some at night, and when I would go pick it up the next night I would forget what I was reading about. And I purchased the book on my Kindle and there were no chapter tabs on the percentage bar, so I really had no idea when a chapter was ending. I think I just wanted a Alaska adventure growing up kind of book and it wasn't that. Interesting, but know what to expect first.
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This was one fantastic memoir! It has eccentric parents reminiscent of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and outdoor adventures reminiscent of Wild by Cheryl Strayed - a great combination in my opinion! Leigh's Dad flies her in his seaplane to remote fishing spots in the Alaskan tundra to catch "mountains of salmon" (at age eight!), yet lives in a brand new house without any furniture. Her Mom is artsy and obsessed with her old Baltimore lineage and does not have any house rules or ask about Leigh's homework (much less make her actually do it). The combination of these eccentric personalities and the touching story of Leigh dealing with her parents' divorce makes for an enjoyably quirky and heartfelt book.

Leigh tells her story in three parts. Part 1 focuses on her upbringing in Alaska and Baltimore and how she handles the divorce. I loved hearing about her life in Alaska - her Dad builds himself a smoker out of an old refrigerator and smokes their "mountains of salmon" in their driveway! The Top Chef judges would be very impressed.

Part 2 starts out when Leigh is 26 and beginning her writing career (initially for a travel magazine). I liked this part a bit less than the first one - it's more about her struggle with what to make of her life and her commitment issues and focuses less on her Alaskan upbringing, which I think is the truly unique part of this book.

Part 3 turned things back around - she meets a guy! And, of course, struggles with how to navigate that relationship. I got completely sucked into the Leigh/Lawrence story and stayed up very late at night to see how it would end. Don't Google her before reading the book if you want to enjoy the suspense of this plot line! She writes about the relationship in a totally unique way (i.e.
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