Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure Paperback – Apr 3 2012
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"Charming [and] uplifting...a keen feminist fable for brave girls."
"Herr’s prose...captures the joy of being on the trail...More than anything, the narrative serves as an apt landscape for a mother to reflect on her choices and on her struggle with how to explain life’s unfairness (sexism, cruelty of nature, distrust of strangers) to her daughter while continuing to nurture the innocent joys of fleeting childhood. Warmly ruminative and honestly observant."
"As someone who has struggled to keep up with Alex on a pair of New Hampshire 4,000ers in winter, I can testify first- hand to what a remarkable hiker and person she is. Trish Herr's charming memoir distills the lessons she learned on the trail with her precocious daughter. Up offers a welcome corrective to the Tiger Mother syndrome."
--David Roberts, author of Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer
“As a parent of two kids myself, I'm always working for more quality time with cell phones and computers turned off. Some of my best times have been kayaking, hiking, and skiing with my family. It's the stuff life is built on. So I love this mother-daughter tale of sharing something beautiful and profound together and building upon those shared experiences. It's what every family should emulate. The delightful stories put a smile on my face as they brought back memories of my daughter when she was Alex's age. And it warmed my heart as they reached each summit together.”
— Erik Weihenmayer, author of Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See and The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles into Everyday Greatness
"What is more striking than the breathtaking vistas they are rewarded with at the top — including double rainbows — are the mountains of emotions Herr expresses as she observes her daughter growing, not just in hiking skills, but in wisdom about people, learning lessons useful in life: Joy, love, and amazement." -- BOSTON GLOBE
"An entertaining read....UP perfectly captures the roller coaster ride of parenting." -- CONCORD MONITOR
"Inspiring and enjoyable." -- MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM
"Herr’s account is really half hiking reference manual and half meditation on how to instill independence and confidence at a young age—an odd and oddly compelling combination." -- BOOKPAGE
About the Author
PATRICIA ELLIS HERR holds a master's degree in biological anthropology from Harvard University and homeschools her two daughters. She lives in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
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That said, there are some elements of Herr's writing style and tone that set me a bit on edge and spoiled the reading experience for me. Primarily my concern is that she focuses too much on finding Messages in each experience and hitting her readers over the head with them rather than just letting the story - and Alex's bold personality - unfold naturally and allowing readers to take their own messages from it. The result is oftentimes clunky, self-conscious, over-thought and occasionally rather defensive.
One of the best illustrations of this is the chapter entitled "To Get Where She Wants to Go, a Girl Must Punch Through Rotting Snow". This hike, Alex's thirtieth peak, takes place in early spring, a time when the snow on the mountains is melting and mushy, making the going quite rough as one frequently plunges thigh-deep into the slushy stuff. Along the way Alex says, "Jacob told me I can't be good at math because I'm a girl." Now, call me simplistic, but this seems like a no-brainer to me for someone whose daughter has hiked twenty-nine mountains: "Yeah, and you're not supposed to be good at climbing mountains either because you're a girl. So what do you think about such silly ideas?" But instead, Herr takes the next thirteen pages to anguish over how to handle this and ruminate on all the injustices of gender discrimination and the progress - and lack thereof - of the feminist movement.
Herr's first mistake is to point out to Alex that she is two grade levels ahead of Jacob in math. That information, even if true, is not only not Alex's business, but, more importantly, irrelevant to the point at hand. Alex's and Jacob's relative performance is immaterial to the issue of whether or not boys are better at math. Even if Alex were behind Jacob in math, it wouldn't' be proof that boys are better, just as Alex being ahead of Jacob doesn't mean that girls are better. Her kid doesn't have to be the best, or even better than another child, to be just as good as a boy.
Herr then speculates on how Jacob got into making such comments, because his own mother, a friend of Herr's, doesn't tolerate "sexist comments", so he must have learned it from some other boy. Herr decides it must be the influence of a new boy who saw Alex and "sniffed, "I don't like girls," turned on his heals, and stalked off." Well, that settles it then, let's blame him. Alex, of course, was hurt by this experience of "gender discrimination." Oh, please, little boys not wanting to play with little girls is not "gender discrimination" any more than the reverse is. It's just fairly typical early childhood behavior to want only same-gender friends. Of course, being excluded hurts under any circumstances and I don't mean to minimize that. But I think Herr could have discussed that without the whole history of the American woman.
My other issue is the fact that Herr seems utterly unaware of just how privileged she is. In the introduction, she encourages all of us to pursue our big, grand and daring dreams and, "don't automatically shrug and assume that you're too young, too old, too weak, too busy, too poor, too frazzled, or too small." Good points certainly, but they sound a little hollow from someone who has had the luxury to chose to be a stay at home mom and the education and resources to do it well enough to provide her daughters (and herself) with deeply enriching experiences. Someone who can afford a vacation home in New Hampshire and a regular home in Massachusetts. Someone who can afford over $8,000 just for winter hiking and camping gear, nevermind all the other gear. Someone who has the time, money and ability to travel not only all over New Hampshire, but over the whole U.S., including Hawaii. While many of us may dream of taking our daughters (and sons) on grand adventures, few of us have the resources Herr has been blessed with, and such obstacles cannot be lightly dismissed with a breezy injunction to, "learn, persevere, sweat!"
Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy for Ms. Herr and her ability to provide such amazing experiences for her daughters. I'm sure that Alex and Sage will grow up to be strong-willed, independent-minded women who will make their marks on the world and probably make it a better place. I wish that every child would have the kind of childhood they are having in which their ideas are taken seriously and even their wildest dreams can come true. I salute Ms. Herr for having the courage to take the road less traveled and daring to be different. But the message that everyone can do it if they just try and work hard enough is a bit too simplistic and, frankly, cheesy. Of course we can all make great strides in life if we set our minds to it, but we all start at different places, so we might not all be able to make the same goals.
There are quite a few aspects of this book that are so repetitive that it just becomes flat out annoying, such as the condescending way the author (and mother) speaks about half of the people she encounters in this book, or the way she blatantly favors one child over the other. I'm going to run these off in list form, just to better organize my thoughts on this book, and so you may skip whatever part you don't agree with easily.
1. Time and time again in this book the author introduces people into the storyline only to use them to prove how much more open minded, kind, politically correct, intelligent she is. it becomes painful to read. Almost every guy she encounters on the trails immediately becomes a condescending sexist could be serial rapist/killer. I find it hard to believe that every man she crossed paths with would come up to her and her daughter, and knowingly talk down to them because they're girls/women hiking. Or make comments like they needed a man to protect them. She sets up every single encounter so that she may then spout off all of the enlightening wisdom she imparts onto her 5 year old daughter about these people being judgmental or sexist. we get it lady. stop finding ways to let it be known that you can do whatever you want "in spite" of being a woman.
2. The first chapter was mind numbing to get through. If I had to read one more line where she starts it with " Alex, was going strong, doing so well.. blah blah blah, but Sage on the other hand...." a whole chapter where she continuously praises the strength and dexterity of her 5 year old, and writes off the 3 year old. Every praise for alex is followed immediately by downplaying sage. She's 3. don't take her camping if you're just going to comment on how she's tired, or sad, or not hiking, etc. shoving in a statement of how you were proud of her for trying does not make up for the entire chapter of disapproval.
3. How many times will she shove food/chocolate at her small children to get them to not cry/be happy/want to hike. if you have to offer up chocolate bars at the end of the hike, then they don't really want to hike.
4. I believe Alex is a sweet, smart little girl, who loves to be outside (much like most 5 year olds or kids in general) I am sure she is funny, and has a wonderful vocabulary, but it's off putting just how often this mother shoves it down our throat that her child is smart. Not just off putting though, and little too fluffed I think. Some proud mom enhanced moments of sorts. I have a 13 yr old and a 4 year old both of whom are very bright, and I just could not buy the little girl becoming ENRAGED at an adult who was speaking to her like a baby. first of all, I feel like that guy was not trying to be rude, some people just speak like kids TO kids. she immediately ripped that guy apart for daring to speak to her genius kid in a "sugary sweet tone" - but back to what I was saying.. so this little 5 year old buries her head into her mothers side, enraged and needing to be held back, because this man talked to her like a child? I'm sorry but I don't believe half of how this mother describes this little girl reacting. one minute she is seething mad, questioning the manner in which an adult spoke to her, and questioning why he would dare tell her she was hiking an adult mountain, and the next she is completely entertained by toddler nursery rhymes and songs, and trail mix.
I hope I can finish this book, simply because I hate leaving a book half read. This all comes across as a bored stay at home mother with a little too much money and time to kill. Perhaps Alex did want to hike these mountains, but it's amazing how the mom managed to make this book more about her, and her uptight views than about the funny, smart little girl she claims it's about.
So mom and daughter start hiking, and soon daughter decides she wants to hike all the peaks. OK, interesting enough. The book discusses the mom's feelings of how things are going, how great mom thinks her daughter is, how mom has to explain to daughter about bigotry in the world, how mom "casually suggests" how advanced daughter is for her age, how mom...wait a minute! I wanted to hear more about the DAUGHTER. You know, the 5 year old that mom has to defend when other hikers thinks she's crazy for bringing her out. Yeah, the same 5 year old that mom has to watch out for when weather turns bad, and that mom...
Granted, a book written by a 6 or 7 year old isn't going to be great, but the insight into what the kid is thinking is so thin that, to me, the book basically turned into a "My daughter is great, and here is proof that she's great, and I'm a great mother." Roughly the equivalent of talking to any stranger about their kids.
Perhaps my hopes were inflated after having read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which are about vastly different things from each other and this book, but all have the whole nature aspect in common and are much stronger titles and provide a more interesting storyline than "Up."
Too much mom and not enough daughter for me...might want to look into other similar books before getting too involved with this one. (Of course, if you're a mom wanting to do something special with your daughter, chances are you're going to end up with this one.)
I'm not one to criticize Ms. Herr for taking a 5 year old on the quest to hike all 48 peaks. She knows her own daughter and it sounds like the child liked it (most of the time). I too believe that girls/women can and should be encouraged to challenge themselves. BUT, having said that, I do think Mom took some risks that were clearly not necessary. Going on a hike, off season, in NH to an isolated peak like Moriah without another adult was foolhardy. If she (the Mom) had been injured, and couldn't continue, her 5 year old would have had to come down the mountain alone and then seek help - perhaps flag a car down on route 16? That is just one example. I think Mom should at least have had another adult along for some (if not most) of these hikes. "Three" is not a crowd on the mountain, especially in winter and spring.
Ms. Herr talks a lot about giving up a career, choosing to home school her children, and doing all the wonderful things for her daughters that her free time allowed. I don't question her choices, but they seemed to come with some implied sense of superiority over those who might make other choices. When Alex asks: "Other Mothers work outside the home. Are they wrong?", the author answers "I can't know what's best for other mothers and their children. I know only what's best for me and for the two of you."
Tepid answer to say the least. The question was "Are they wrong?" The answer should have been "It's not a matter of right or wrong. Most Moms dearly love their children as much as I love you and Sage. Working outside the home doesn't mean they love their kids any less or that they are wrong to want to do that. It's a choice based on what is best for them and their family, just as I have made a choice on what's best for me and the two of you."
To Alex: You're older now but good for you for accomplishing this feat at such a young age. You did it! Congratulations and best wishes to you and Sage for many more challenging and SAFE hikes.
Herr makes it clear that it's all driven by Alex, and if the way the little girl is portrayed is accurate, then I buy that. Alex seems to have been born with an old soul, an abundance of energy, and no concept of the idea of limits. Very cool!
But I'm less sure that the idea behind the book is as altruistic. It wavers between parental advice ("...I think that children are for more capable than most adults realize. Sometimes they just need to be reminded of their own strength."), feminist treatise ("...Nothing much happens to boys who say sexist things to girls.") and love letter ("...Love for my child overwhelms me; it threatens to flatten me. I am so lucky to have this incredible, strong, intelligent little girl in my life!"). And all of that isn't bad, per se, but it does muddy the water a bit, as do the not-infrequent sidebarring into "Why I Never Finished my Harvard PhD" and "Why I'm a Stay-At-Home Mom." I honestly didn't care that much if she were a rocket scientist with a string of initials after her name or if she were a high school dropout. It's Alex who's the interesting one (sorry, Mom!).
The book succeeds when the focus is kept on the idea of mother and child accomplishing something together, and equipping your kids to reach their dreams. It falters when it takes on a preachy tone ("...Couldn't I be a proper modern-day woman, stick my babies in day care, and stay the course?"). The judgmental tone, intended or not, will alienate some readers unnecessarily. I had to bite my tongue more than a few times.
All the same, the book was well-written and an enjoyable, quick read. It definitely made me question the limits I place on my kids. And while I won't be joining the 4K club, I may tackle a hike or two this summer.
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