Cover Image: The Barrens

The Barrens

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Member Reviews

This book is definitely not my normal genre but I am extremely glad I requested. It was really well done and you were really rooting for the characters to make it through it.

Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an arc for an honest review!
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It was tough reading about Lee going on a trip and losing Holly although I knew what I signed up for. We get the book told from Lee's point of view which left me wondering about Holly. What was she like? What is her motivation? What are her thoughts? Although I am sure there is a reason we only got Lee's point of view and know so little about Holly. We only know what Lee knows about Holly. It was a heavy book, not gonna lie, it filled me with grief. Not only grief for Holly, but also for the way Lee was left behind. It would be weird saying I enjoyed the book but it did get me thinking just like Lee started thinking about everything in her life when she was alone out there.

An ARC was provided to me for an honest review.
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Grief and survival coincide in this novel of exploration gone wrong. The imagery is vivid and actions feel authentic both technically and emotionally. Characters are well developed and voices feel true to their nature.

It felt jarring to lose one of the main characters so quickly, but I think that made it easier to empathize with our primary narrator, Lee. I enjoyed how Lee’s backstory was layered into the present narrative because it kept the reading fresh, and it explained her outdoor competence and emotional psyche.

I didn’t feel completely swept away by the story the entire time, but writing to push for even more reader engagement might not feel authentic to the story anyway. 

Read this is you enjoy wilderness survival stories like those written by Peter Heller and Ben Mikaelsen.
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3.5 stars

The Barrens is an unforgettable backwoods adventure story, with a slightly morbid twist.

Lee is an incredibly complex protagonist; her entire life is one long survival story. While I love a good hiking story, I probably enjoyed the flashbacks to her upbringing even more. Lee's off-the-grid conspiracy theorist single father was just hands-on enough to teach her how to survive in the wilderness and hands-off enough to leave her feeling pretty alone in the world.

While I wanted to be on board with Lee & Holly's relationship, most of the development happens after Holly dies. They're both so reserved, particularly Lee, and they don't really know each other very well - despite their decision to tackle this dangerous and isolated journey together. Lee doesn't truly open up until she starts speaking to Holly while she's in a coma and then continues after she dies. While this adds to The Barrens ' narrative, it detracts from the "love story".

I am a sucker for any story that takes place deep in the wilderness, and The Barrens is no exception. The writing was a little too simplistic with a lot of telling and not much showing, but I enjoyed the story.
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Lee really was the hero in this story . Her ability to carry on with little paddling and portage experience was remarkable. Her turbulent upbringing and survival instincts proved to be beneficial. Holly was disappointing. Her knowledge of this expedition and dangers along the way should have made her more prone to being safe. Her mantra of saying no to dangerous rapids should have made her more vigilant to her surroundings. The beginning of the book was captivating but the middle was meh . The ending was interesting in that Lee finally was able to tell her life story. Here is hoping she does not became a Holly but makes a separate life for herself.
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Holly invites Lee to join her canoeing along the subarctic Canadian Barren Lands. Entering this beautiful wilderness together, Lee witnesses Holly fall from the canoe. Forced to recover her comatose body and stand vigil as she dies, Holly recounts a number of awful experiences from her life as she attempts to come to terms with her loss and grieve the chaotic sadness of life.

The Barrens starts with an incredibly powerful sequence of Holly's accident, and Lee seeming to rescue her from the rapids. The book's marketing does state that this is a story that is recounted, so it does what it says on the tin, but personally I found the 'let me tell you this, and then that, and then this' was not as engaging a method of storytelling as the action-packed sequences involving Holly's accident. The terrifying beauty of subarctic Canada grounds the story very well, and Lee's utter powerlessness in watching a comatose Holly die and degrade were viscerally shocking. In that sense, this isn't a book for the faint of heart. 

With that said, because Holly recounts experiences such as rape from such an emotional distance, I felt these aspects of the story had little emotional impact, and felt they crossed the line into shock value. Basically I felt there was too much telling and not enough showing of emotion and grief, which was a shame, because the writers can show very well. Again, this is the purpose of the novel, so it's not a criticism as such, more an explanation of why it didn't work for me personally as a reader. 

Finally, this was shelved in the LGBTQIA section on NetGalley, but overall I felt disappointed by the representation of Lee's understanding and experience of her sexuality. While not every story has to be about queer joy, I did feel her sexuality was lacking adequate depth and engagement.

I am grateful to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of The Barrens. These opinions are my own.
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This story essentially is about Lee's personal relationships with people she is close to.  Lee grows up a loner and was surprised to find that Holly another college girl was interested in a relationship with her.   Growing ever closer, Holly invites Lee to go canoeing in Canada where a tragedy pulls Lee into the forefront of surviving in the wilderness with little resources, and just her wits to carry her through. 

I would rate this book as 'fair'.  I found it interesting but wasn't blown away.  It's written almost like an autobiography and once I read the blurb about the authors at the end of the book, it all made sense.
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I throughly enjoyed this book. It was sad and thought provoking. A quick read but, so,well described that I could see the rapids and hear the rushing water as it went over the rocks. What a deep book something that will stay with me for quite awhile. My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
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The Barrens is an adventure/survival novel that reminded me of Wild and 127 hours. I haven’t read any books in this sub-genre so it was out of my comfort zone, but so worth it ❤️ It was also character driven which I don’t always enjoy, it’s a 50/50 chance I’ll love it or hate it. The characters were so well written and the story of finding yourself while dealing with a traumatic experience really captured me!

I was immediately pulled in and finished in just 3 days. We get to know more about Lee’s past along her journey through The Barrens. Lee is such a strong MC and there’s major character development which I always love to see! It’s a dark and emotional story so take care and look at the TWs before picking this one up! 

My only “complaint” would be that we didn’t get to know Holly as much as I hoped. We only know about her from Lee’s memories and the relationship Lee had with her. I would’ve enjoyed a little more background about Holly from her own POV.
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Thank you to NetGalley for an Arc copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the book, however I would say it’s less a story about love and death in the Canadian Arctic and more about death and finding yourself. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have much time with Holly as a character but I never felt connected to her or their relationship. I really enjoyed learning about Lee’s backstory and felt it was important to know to understand who she is as a person and what she learned on her journey through this unexpected journey. I thought that the barrens and scenery in the book was really well described and provided good imagery for readers. I think with a bit more background into both Holly and Lee’s relationship or a slower build up to accident would have allowed me to connect and enjoy the book more. Overall though it was an interesting read!
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The Barrens is a story following Lee and Holly’s trip to the barrens of Canada. We see how they begin to connect in this trip, however, something unexpected happens.

I was mind blown with the execution of this beautiful story. I didn’t expect how much I was going to enjoy it. The story telling of the relationship is so crude yet so gracefully done. At times it did made me tear up.

Lee was a character that at times made angry but then sympathetic with. I felt like I was the one in her position because it really captivated me. On the other hand, you didn’t really know Holly at all. Only Lee’s memories narrated who Holly was.

This is what my main criticism is. We didn’t know the character’s connection origin or Holly’s character because we don’t have a strong backstory before the trip. I did expect to be introduced to it but I was disappointed. Nevertheless, the relationship still made my emotions stir up.

I also think the scenery was excellently good. I could almost imagine myself there. The authors made an amazing job with the nature and the importance of it to the story.

If you’re interested in reading it, please go ahed and do it because it is worth it.
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Two young women go off on a month long canoe trip through the rugged, remote Canadian arctic. The more experienced outdoorswoman dies after being injured in a fall while trying to take a selfie.  (Side note: selfie deaths are much more common than you might think.  One of my neighbors died taking a selfie on a not-particularly high mountain hike).  The other woman, who is her romantic partner, must bring her body out of the wilderness and ruminates on stories from her past to fortify herself as she tries to survive and find her way.  Not as much of an adventure story as I was expecting, but engrossing nonetheless.
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I enjoyed this book, but I was also frustrated by it. Belonging to the adventure sub-genre which I have decided to call "canoe-trip-gone-wrong," and which I have discovered I quite enjoy, but also to a sort of young adult/new adult/self-discovery/romance space that I've never been particularly interested in (not even when I was one) this book set up expectations for me that it then didn't quite meet - some of the adventure-tropes never played out, there were certainly some twists I wasn't expecting, and some twists that I sort of was expecting with positive energy and never got. 
At a certain point I started to get angry at this book, because it dawned on me that I was essentially reading a story about rich (or girlfriends-to-the-rich) Americans flying into parts of Canada that most Canadians will never get a chance to see, and then having to be rescued, by Canadians. I was happy near the start with the bush pilot sort of complaining about this, and I hoped to see him return towards the end and make some relatively polite-but-pointed remarks to that effect, but that didn't happen, to my disappointment. There were a few moments like with the pilot and with a neat little line towards the end at the restaurant where there was some recognition that there are some class differences in the world and not everyone can just buy tickets and take a summer off and go canoeing, and i salute that.
I think essentially I was disappointed this book wasn't written by a fellow Canadian!
Also, I decided that I probably didn't like the main character very much because to me she came across as essentially still rather selfish at the end of the book, particular when it came to her relationship with her father (I don't want to write spoilers so I'll just say that I thought she'd come to realize/use more of the skills he'd taught her and to acknowledge that he was, seems to me, certainly not perfect but trying awfully hard to be a good father despite being pretty out there) This might be a target audience thing - the character is still pretty young and maybe that just goes with the territory.
It would have been nice if there had been a little humour. 

To the things I liked about this book -
I've never been to the barrens, but I certainly believe the authors have lots of background and experience there and with canoeing. It was neat how they didn't over-romanticize the setting, which perhaps a Canadian author would have fallen prey to doing.
I read this book in only two days, being carried along by it's pace - it's not the fastest paced canoe-gone-wrong story that I've read, but it does keep flowing, with short chapters that encourage you to keep flipping the pages.
I liked that this book had a young woman lead instead of the more typical young male lead in adventure stories, and I also appreciated that she mostly rescued herself. (Although I did feel the nature of her discovery/actual rescue was cheat-y, narrative-wise..)  
I was amused by the nature of the accident, as it mirrors a scene in one of my own works.
It was an adventure story, and that is always fun.
Despite my gripping, I kept returning to the book throughout the past two days to read what happened next.
I'm impressed that the writing of this book was a team effort!

I am giving this a three and a half stars. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the authors for providing me a copy to review.
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Thank you to Netgalley, Kurt Johnson, and Ellie Johnson for an ARC of The Barrens. This book is an interesting read for me. The setting is interesting. The plot is character-driven more than plot-driven. We get to see a lot of Lee’s backstory and her relationship with Holly. The pacing of the book is fast at the beginning, but when you get to the middle of the story it gets slower. Overall, it is an interesting read. If you are a fan of Jack London’s To Build A Fire, this book has similar vibes to it. This comes out in May 2022
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This is not your typical book.  This book is about two women, Lee and Holly embarking on an adventure that will change both of their lives forever.
Lee  and Holly are a couple that have not been together long, but Holly wants them to do a 450 mile adventure on the Thelon River in Canada.  The river runs through a region called Barren Lands that has no inhabitants, thus the name.  
Things have just started and are going well, until Holly wants to take a selfie and steps too far back and falls.  She is comatose for days with Lee caring for her the whole time.  Finally Holly succumbs to her injuries.  Lee makes a promise to Holly that she will travel the distance to bring her to her family.  She does just that.  
Throughout Lee tells her story and comes to deal with her life.  
This is a true tale of survival and being able to beat the odds.
I would recommend.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in  exchange for an honest review.
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Longer review to come.

This book had an interesting plot and an interesting backstory, but the way it was interwoven together was long and drawn out and I think could have been better served in a different format. This would have been a 3 star read, except for the fact that the lesbian representation, and many of the things the book endorsed with regard to the lesbian representation, made me so viscerally uncomfortable it wasn't even funny. In particular, the emphasis that not coming out made someone a coward, the lack of understanding that the book as a whole took towards people who cannot come out, and then the forced outing of Holly at the end of the book has lost it a star. I felt that the lesbian representation was overall unrealistic and the scenes where Lee discussed her lesbianism felt forced. (context: I am a gay woman)
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The Barrens: A Novel of Love and Death in the Canadian Arctic by Kurt Johnson and Ellie Johnson is exactly what it says on the tin: a heartbreaking novel about a young queer woman, Lee, who endures tragedy and peril while on a canoeing expedition in the Canadian Artic. Lee and her partner, Holly, decided to spend their college summer break canoeing down the Theon river, a trip Holly had taken before in the years prior. The trip was already expected to be taxing, as Holly and Lee would experience a lack of many amenities and luxuries, isolation, wildlife, rapids, and other features of a several-week trek through the barren Canadian wilderness. However, Lee's situation soon became dire when Holly tragically fell into a ravine. Lee quickly had to adapt to Holly's death and to a land she had never visited before. Intercut with the story of Lee's survival is the story of her past, how she was raised by a demanding eco-anarchist father, how she developed her young queer identity in the Midwest, and how she and Holly began their relationship in college. 

Though most of the content of the novel is divulged in the subtitle and book description, the exact breakdown of events is still thrilling, horrific, and page-turning. I raced through this novel, enjoying how Lee's story divulged and feeling her every heartbreak acutely. Not once was I taken out of the story, and I do not have a single critique of the novel.

This novel is also a fascinating collaboration between father and daughter. Kurt Johnson is, I assume, the author of the majority of the words penned in this book, however Ellie receives equal billing. She provided the inspiration and research for much of the content of the novel, as she, like Lee and Holly, is a queer woman who took the canoeing trip herself a few years ago. Ellie's experience and Kurt's prose make for an extremely vivid, realistic, and unique work of art. 

Thank you, Arcade Publishing and NetGalley, for providing this early release copy in exchange for my review.
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The unique premise of this book really drew me in. I was very curious how a one person  story was going to unfold in a way to keep me interested, but boy did it ever. I kept putting myself in Lee's shoes (though I would never go on that kind of excursion). The wonderful writing really made me feel all these emotions and feelings through Lee. I absolutely loved the flashbacks to really keep the pace of this book interesting. Overall a great read!
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The Barrens is a devastatingly beautiful LGBTQ adventure story. It tells the story of a college-aged couple canoeing through the Canadian arctic on their summer break. I really enjoyed the rugged setting that provided a wild and ever-changing backdrop to a heartbreaking story of love and loss. The characters have a lot of depth and nuance to them that makes them come to life on the page. The unique combination of being a queer coming of age story as well as a daring adventure makes The Barrens an unforgettable read.
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This coming of age novel was lonely but moving. I wish I knew more about Holly, but I learned to love Lee. I appreciated the format. The fall wasn’t the climax of the book, the story is about Lee’s growth…not Holly’s death.
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