Nature as few have imagined it: Utah, a windswept desert thick with spring, the flash of primrose, treeless hills, canyons shining in the sun. And in the distance, all but lost in these great sweeps of rock and sky, a group of teenagers, fresh out of suburban America, are struggling desperately to build new lives-beyond crack and crystal mete, beyond sadness, beyond a pain that has brought many to the brink of self-destruction.
In Shouting at the Sky, award-winning writer Gary Ferguson is once again bound for the back-country, this time to spend a season in one of the country's most remarkable programs for troubled teens. Here you'll share in the daily triumphs and heartaches of an unforgettable group of kids. Witness their shock at the wilderness, outrageous with its bluster and open spaces, its lack of bathrooms and cooked meals, its absence of television, malls and old friends. Huddle with them on moonlit nights around a juniper fire. Sit for an afternoon on a canyon rim in the middle of nowhere and listen to their stories and poems: tales of anorexia and amphetamines, of depression and workaholic parents, of the grating fear that will not let them be.
Shouting at the Sky is a story resplendent with glimpses into power of the human spirit and the healing that is possible when the beauty and challenges of the wild are linked to it. But along these trails can also be found issues of striking gravity: insights into how young lives can go terribly wrong and, in the end, how many of our fondest hopes for tomorrow and teetering on the brink, waiting for us to find the will, the courage to build more genuine connections to our children.
"I can't imagine being broken down without a wild place to fall apart in," Ferguson writes. So this is also a very personal account of his participation as an observer, leader, and storyteller in the rites of passage these teenagers undergo in the Utah desert. It is a story of individuals, counselors and participants alike, grown-ups and youths, sharing the struggle to find themselves.
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Gary Ferguson has written more than a dozen books on nature and science. His 1997 book, The Sylvan Path: A Journey Through America's Forests (released in trade paperback as Through the Woods), was a winner of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards, Spirits of the Wild: The World's Great Nature Myths was selected by the New York City Public Library as one of the best books of 1996. He is a frequent speaker and lecturer on a variety of social conservation issues, and his nature-oriented essays can be heard on National Public Radio affiliates throughout the country. He and his wife, Jane, live in Red Lodge, Montana. For more information, visit Gary at his web site: www.wildwords.net.
This tale of teenagers struggling to remake their lives in the wilds of southern Utah manages to be both deeply lyrical and seriously sappy. Nature writer Ferguson (The Sylvan Path: A Journey Through Americas Forests, 1997) spent several months as a kind of counselor-cum-observer with the Aspen Achievement Academy, a wilderness therapy program whose philosophy blends pioneer self-reliance with a generous helping of New Age blather. The students, plagued by everything from drugs to depression to attention-deficit and eating disorders, are grizzled veterans of countless failed therapeutic schemes. Now they are dumped in a particularly stark stretch of Mormon country, stripped, searched, and outfitted for a two-month, no-frills desert and mountain sojourn. Dividing his time between one group of girls and another of boys, Ferguson charts the participants' emotional and physical evolution, from their early days as ``mice,'' timid beginners who have to count aloud each time they use the bathroom so their counselors can keep track of them, into seasoned adventurers who can fend for themselves and, hopefully, bring some of what they've learned in the wild back home with them. Along the way, Ferguson hangs out with the hipper-than-thou staff and recounts stories of suicide watches, escape attempts , and countless therapy sessions. When he depicts the rigors and the beauty of the landscape, Ferguson's prose approaches poetry, and his stories about kids who can't concentrate long enough to finish a sentence mastering the painstaking art of starting a fire from a bow drill speak volumes about what these programs do best. But the author's thumbnail character sketches read more like allegories of American ailments than the real stories of troubled young people, and his ecstatic embrace of all things mystical and Native American sometimes verges on parody. At its best, this book testifies to nature's ability to heal and inspire. At its worst, it's like being stuck on a long camping trip with Shirley MacLaine. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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