Lain's Reviews > Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure

Up by Patricia Ellis Herr
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May 30, 2012

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Read from May 30 to June 10, 2012

Little people can do big things. That, in a sentence, seems to be Patricia Ellis Herr's theme behind "Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure." The book is a memoir that traces author and her five-year-old daughter, Alex, as they attempt to join the Four Thousand Footer Club, ascending all 40-some of New Hampshire's 4K-plus peaks.

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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05/30/2012 page 125
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