By Sarah Nicole Lemon
Amulet Books, 2018
Young adult, contemporary
Additional formats: ebook, audiobook
Rilla is trouble. She’s a party girl from the wrong side of the tracks (though it remains a question if her tiny West Virginia hometown even has tracks) whose recent violent fight with a boyfriend has resulted in her family packing her up and shipping her off to Yosemite National Park to live with an older sister and get her life together. She gets arrested pretty much immediately, and decides this is it: rock bottom. She’s going to climb her way out, figuratively and literally, and become someone better.
Rilla gets close with a few friends of her park ranger sister, climbers who are in Yosemite for the summer. She learns the lingo and how to work the gear, takes odd jobs to afford her own equipment, overcomes an initially paralyzing fear of falling, all to become slick, cool, capable, competent, better. But no matter how high she climbs, she can’t escape herself, her past, or her dysfunctional and untraditional family history. Soon, climbing becomes less a way to run from who she is, and more a way for her to learn that who she is isn’t someone who needs to be run from. She’s strong, smart, and brave, and every rock she clambers over takes her closer to accepting those truths.
She’s not a typically charming main character. This is a hard girl from a hardscrabble place who is used to getting what she wants by being sneaky or through force. She’s insecure, she steals, she’s ungrateful. She cares too much about what her friends think and she makes impulsive decisions. She’s…well, she’s almost every reader at that age. Perhaps we’ve never ended up in a National Park Service jail cell, but we’ve all said things we regret to people we love, and we all have secrets. Watching Rilla put her foot in her mouth but sincerely try to make things right and to be kind and gritty is such a relief: here’s a character who is both likable and unlikable. Who is human.
I’m not an outdoorsy person and reading the descriptions of having to stay in the ropes for days at a time while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite (including, yes, peeing in your harness from thousands of feet up) didn’t change my mind about staying inside on my sofa. But it did give me such an insight into the appeal of climbing, and why we need to get more girls on those rocks. – AN