Top positive review
Great Read & Not What I Expected
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2017
Who would imagine a book about the AT could be so polarizing? I recently read this book and waited a little while to reflect on it before writing this review. I had no idea who Jennifer Pharr Davis was before reading the book, so I approached it as just another thru-hiker's memoir which, I suppose, it was when she wrote it.
Based on the reviews, I expected the worst. Most of the books I've read about the AT have been good ones, so part of me was willing to read Becoming Odyssa so that I'd have a bad one to balance things out. I dove in looking for the preachy, overly-naive, judgmental, girl-power, entitled young woman that so many reviewers here complain about, but I couldn't find her.
Preachy? I can recall 5 or 6 times when she mentions her faith in God and/or explains how her faith influenced her in a given situation, so maybe that qualifies somehow.
Naive? Yes, but no more so than most other authors who wrote about their first thru-hike of the AT.
Judgmental? Only if you consider someone judgmental who views strangers in the wilderness with initial skepticism. I seldom backpack these days, but I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was younger. I crossed paths with a number of weirdos. When you're alone in the woods, I'd argue that it's better to be considered judgmental than be a victim. I wonder how many nights the negative reviewers have spent alone in the woods.... Several times she does share her opinion of others' behavior on the trail. Spoiler: There were inconsiderate people on the trail. Some were incredibly inconsiderate. If you believe being on the AT gives you the freedom to do whatever you want regardless of effect on others, you'll find her to be judgmental. If you think it's inappropriate to smoke pot in a shelter you're sharing with others including a 12-year old weekend hiker, or if you think it's inappropriate to copulate in a shelter where there are other hikers spending the night, you probably won't find her as judgmental as everyone else.
Girl-power? Not a bit.I kept waiting to hear her talk about how her journey was harder/more meaningful/empowering/etc. because she's female, but she didn't treat her story like that at all. Her few mentions of gender were well-placed (and subtle) reminders that men and women will experience some things differently on the trail.
Entitled? This didn't come through either except, for example, when she reached a shelter after hiking 20-30 miles and found it full of weekenders who wouldn't make room and who treated their outing like a frat party. I'd say thru-hikers are entitled to some entitlement given their circumstances.
Instead of all those things, what I found was well-written, engaging story of a person hiking the AT on her own who had to learn how to hike the trail, who she could trust to hike with her, and, basically, what she wanted her experience to be. A solo thru-hike is a very individual experience, and it's sad that so many who will never undertake an adventure like this have chosen to nit-pick things that they didn't like about the way she chose to experience and, yes, conquer the AT.
I would've done things much differently had I been in her place (no external frame pack or mop handle, as two examples), but she tackled the AT solo, her way, and safely, and she conquered it. And later she went back for more.
This is a great read, and if you accept her story with the honesty in which it is offered and with a little understanding that solo thru-hiking is different than sitting in your living room reading about it, you'll really enjoy the book.