The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
On a six-mile hike on the Maine-New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Trail, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland quickly tires of the constant bickering between her older brother, Pete, and her recently divorced mother. But when she wanders off by herself, and then tries to catch up by attempting a shortcut, she becomes lost in a wilderness maze full of peril and terror.
As night falls, Trisha has only her ingenuity as a defense against the elements, and only her courage and faith to withstand her mounting fears. For solace she tunes her Walkman to broadcasts of Boston Red Sox baseball games and follows the gritty performances of her hero, relief pitcher Tom Gordon. And when her radio's reception begins to fade, Trisha imagines that Tom Gordon is with her-- protecting her from an all-too-real enemy who has left a trail of slaughtered animals and mangled trees in the dense, dark woods...
Why I Picked It Up:
This novel has been sitting on my bookshelf at home since I was eleven. It was time to actually read it.
What I Think:
I was raised to love horror. My father needed someone to take to scary movies and watch late night sci fi and horror television with as it was made quite clear in the beginning of their marriage that my mother was not going to be that person. After taking her to see Predator when she was pregnant with me, my mother officially swore off horror movies and left the task of amusing her husband to her unborn child. As soon as I was able to, I heartily enjoyed my calling.
As such, I've been well acquainted with Stephen King for a long time. Although I can't for the life of me remember the first Stephen King I encountered, my greatest memory of him is reading It over summer break before high school. I had always liked the television movie and found, to my delight, that the novel was even better. King's style played up everything and while I usually find it hard to get spooked by a book, I remember having to put the book down a few evenings because I was starting to stare over my shoulder a few more times than was warranted. To this day, that book remains in my top five.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was actually given to me by my beloved Aunt Shannon when I was around eleven years old. She had read it, enjoyed it and said that the main girl reminded her of me so she gave me my own copy. I was a pretty precocious reader back in those days so it really wasn't all that strange to give me a copy of a Stephen King book. I was really grateful, stuck the book on the bookshelf and there it stands to this day. I would glance over at it every once in awhile, think "I should read that" and then go about my daily life. So when I found the book at Ogikubo, just sitting on the shelf, I knew I had to pick it up.
This novel is intense but it's very good. Very quickly into the book, Trisha goes off the path while hiking with her brother and mother to use the bathroom, mostly because she's annoyed they're not listening to her. She tries to return via shortcut and soon discovers that she can't really find her way back to the path. The next two hundred pages chronicle her wanderings in the wilderness with just the clothes on her back, a packed lunch, a poncho and her Walkman.
There's something really interesting about a book centered on a solitary figure like that. Every once in a blue moon, King will give a throwaway reference to what's going on in the search for Trisha but 99% of the book is just Trisha and her thoughts. She makes good decisions and bad ones but almost everything is done on a whim or based on information she thinks she remembers hearing once. Days pass and you watch her slowly run out of food and water, withering down to a stalk of a girl, endlessly trying to find traces of civilization.
As the novel progresses, however, a strange presence starts to follow Trisha. Obviously it wouldn't be Stephen King without a spooky element. The greatness of this "God of the Lost" that is stalking Trisha is that it's not introduced until a few days into her journey, at which point she has already hallucinated sounds and images. This could be a horror novel or just a survival novel with a slow descent into insanity. The ambiguity is delicious.
One drawback for me is that I don't know baseball as well as I should. Although I am a Mariner's fan, I admit that it has been pretty recent and I don't know much about the sport. The book is framed in the style of a baseball game, the chapter titles different innings. If I knew more about baseball, I'm sure this would give me a lot more insight but, unfortunately, it was one of those "I know this is awesome but I'm missing it" moments.
The whole book really does have a baseball theme. Trisha loves the Red Sox and tries to keep her sanity by listening to games and thinking about her favorite player, Tom Gordon. Gordon eventually becomes a constant hallucination by her side and ends up giving her advice when she is at her last challenge. It's an interesting motif and spin on the "lost in the woods" story that has been told so often.
As this is Stephen King, I wasn't entirely sure how the book was going to end. Was she going to be rescued? Was she going to die in the woods? It could honestly have gone either way. And the ending did not disappoint. I won't spoil it, obviously, but there is definitely a worthy conclusion to the feverish tale.
I would highly recommend this book. It's a pretty quick read, between page length and page-turner statuses, and for those who don't really enjoy horror, it's honestly not all that scary. If you've ever slightly jumped while camping or looked up quickly when you heard a twig snap, then this is for you.