Q&A with Rebecca Behrens #AloneintheWoods

Biting flies, black bears, and an ex-best friend—surviving the wilderness has never been so impossible.

When twelve-year-old best friends Jocelyn and Alex head off for a late-summer, joint-family vacation in Wisconsin’s isolated north woods, it’s supposed to be a perfect week of hiking, tubing, campfire s’mores, and stargazing. Except for one big problem: Alex and Jocelyn are no longer friends.

Jocelyn secretly hopes that once they get up north, their friendship will go back to normal. Tension comes to a head the day both families go rafting on the Wolf River and the girls’ tube tears on the rocks. Before they know it, Jocelyn and Alex are separated from their families.

Alex is convinced they should follow the footpath along the river to the meeting place at the end. Even though Jocelyn thinks they should stay put, she follows. Suddenly, they are very, very lost.

Wearing swimsuits and water shoes with only the contents of their soaked backpacks, the girls face threats from biting flies to black bears, poison ivy to hypothermia. Both Jocelyn and Alexis call upon resourcefulness they didn’t know they had in their desperate return to safety. But beyond battling the elements, the girls will have to overcome their fractured friendship if they want to make it out of the woods alive.

Why did you want to write Alone in the Woods?

I first started writing the friendship heart of this story over a decade ago, in a manuscript that was inspired by the painful friendship breakup I went through as a teen. (In fact, that was the first manuscript I ever wrote!) But I couldn’t really find a way to make that book about surviving a friendship breakup work, so I put it aside permanently. Years later, I began working on a literal survival story about a girl lost in the woods—but I realized my project was missing its heart. Combining the two concepts was the perfect solution—so I stranded my main character in a national forest . . . with her ex-best friend. The two “survival” ideas blended together surprisingly well—because navigating middle-school friendship problems can be just as challenging as surviving the wilderness.

Tell us something about yourself that not many people know:

I was a teenage metalsmith (which means a craftsperson who makes things out of metal—like jewelry). I used torches, centrifuges, and soldering irons to make jewelry and art out of metal, glass, enamel, and stones. A pewter box that I cast won an award and was on display in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

What is your essential survivalist pack?

Insect repellant. Experts don’t include it in the ten essentials (which are: extra clothing, matches, compass, first aid supplies, sunglasses and sunscreen, flashlight, knife, map, extra food and water, and a firestarter), but mosquitoes love me, so it’s essential to me. Other items that are my essentials: hand sanitizer, a camera, and extra hair elastics. And always a book! I can’t go anywhere, near or far, without a book in my bag. And if I’m close to finishing it, then I need to bring two.

I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:

I love independent bookstores. One of my earliest, fuzziest memories is reading while sitting on the blue-gray carpet at Pooh Corner, an independent children’s bookstore that used to be in my hometown. My whole life, but especially as a shy teen, I’ve found bookstores as a safe and welcoming place where I can explore my interests and also feel part of a community. And now as an author, indie bookstores and booksellers have shown so much enthusiasm and generosity toward me and for my books—which I’m so grateful for. Indie bookstores are essential community spaces, and this year has been incredibly challenging for them. Some ways you can support bookstores, aside from stopping by and buying a book, are: following them on social media, attending a live or virtual event, and purchasing books online from their online stores or from Bookshop, which donates money to independent bookstores with every purchase.

Finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?

I wish people would ask me what my dream setting for a book is. My answer? Antarctica. I’m a little obsessed with looking at photos of it—all the shades of blue and the icy windswept landscapes are stunning. I find the history of explorations there—and the science happening there today—really fascinating. I just haven’t figured out how to set a story in Antarctica yet. But I’m working on it!

Alone in the Woods is out now!

REBECCA BEHRENS is the author of three critically acclaimed middle-grade novels that explore famous historical figures and fascinating places: When Audrey Met Alice, Summer of Lost and Found, and The Last Grand Adventure. Her previous novel, The Disaster Days, is a thrillingly realistic survival story. Rebecca grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Chicago, and now lives with her husband in New York City. You can visit her online at rebeccabehrens.com

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