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Still Points North: Surviving the World's Greatest Alaskan Childhood

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3.65  ·  Rating details ·  975 ratings  ·  160 reviews
Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.

Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, seven-year-old Leigh Newman spent her time landing silver salmon, hiking glaciers, and flying in a single-prop plane.
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by The Dial Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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Deborah aka Reading Mom
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Leigh Newman's memoir reminded me once again of the damage parents can do to their children through lack of communication and empathy during and after divorce; this time told through the voice and seen through the eyes of the child herself. The author's description of growing up in such diverse environments (Alaska when with dad, Baltimore when with mom) and with such pole opposite expectations of behaviour from each parent(outdoor, Great Alaska Kid with dad, charming, well-educated,cultured you ...more
tina
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Newman captivated me. What an honest, transparent, refreshing coming of age story!

Newman's writing style is beautiful. In one sentence she fills your heart with emotion, gives you a giggle and leaves you with a photo. Truly amazing.

"Dad is smiling, too, but a happy, terrified smile, as if the world might turn out to be a bubble and pop."

"Trying to disguise my long for their dumb young bliss with a safe, prickly coating of distain."

And this book isn't just for children affected by divorce or Al
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Julie Ekkers
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Still Points North is a moving, reflective, and deeply thoughtful memoir by a woman for whom my heart broke, for whom I rooted, and for whom I was so glad, ultimately, to cheer, "Yes!" The author's parents divorced when she was young, and her childhood was then divided between her mother in Baltimore and her father (who eventually remarries and has other children) in Alaska. In Still Points North, the reader is able to watch the author reconcile her knowledge and impression of her parents and th ...more
Melanie
Mar 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Not quite as powerful as Sheryl Strayed's "Wild" or as eloquent and striking as Jeanette Walls' "The Glass Castle", this memoir was enjoyable nonetheless and quite moving at times. I give it a 3.5.. Some of the narrative choices in terms of pacing and timing were jarring sometimes, not letting the emotions build up on their own, ruining the element of cumulative tension that is essential to any good story. It's always fascinating to see how crucial and determining a childhood is in anyone's life ...more
Anna Rabinowicz
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writer's voice is luminous, and the stories about her childhood in Alaska are compelling and unusual. I found myself wrapped up in these tales...didn't realize how much time had passed until I looked up at the clock. Highly recommended. ...more
Jeanine
I liked it very much and read it in a single night. I am not ready to summarize my thoughts yet.
Aj Sterkel
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Memoirs are so hard to review! What am I even supposed to say? “Yes, author, your life is sufficiently entertaining. I approve.” Well, I approve of this memoir. It is sufficiently entertaining.

Leigh Newman spends her early childhood in Alaska with her “Great Alaskan Father.” He flies his own plane, hunts, fishes, and lives off the land. Leigh’s mother isn’t as enthusiastic about all the nature stuff. When Leigh is seven, her parents divorce, and she moves to a wealthy part of Baltimore with her
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Holly Booms Walsh
Refreshingly honest and open, this memoir was a mixed bag. On one hand, it's cleverly written with lovely wry descriptions and a knack for telling details that encapsulate a person's character in few words. It is also a captivating description of a very unorthodox childhood in the wilds of Alaska, with fishing and hunting and Great Alaskan plane mishaps. It is also a sad story of how her parents' divorce broke her emotionally, and a rather wretched description of a lost and lonely and selfish yo ...more
Melissa
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a tough one to rate and I'm not sure why. Her story is surely unique and I'm always drawn to insights into very different American experiences (most Americans get little exposure to the myriad cultures and ways of life in our own country). I think I wanted to be able to get into her psyche just a little more than I did. There is such a spectrum of deep emotional damage among the characters, but I wasn't quite able to feel them - to connect with the drivers behind the damage. It was like ...more
Kris Irvin
Jul 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
If there was a point to this book, I'm still searching for it. If you want to read a bunch of self important drivel with random stories from the past (that may or may not be true) thrown in between the nonsensical ramblings about Great Alaskan Fathers and how pointless marriage is, this book is for you.

If, however, you wanted a memoir about growing up in Alaska, or about reconciling with your father, or about anything with any meaning whatsoever, you're better off looking elsewhere.

What a wast
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Jennifer
Apr 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A quick read. I really enjoyed the author's voice. She was really relatable and very funny. The ending was cute. Overall, an uplifting, feel-good book. ...more
Lynne Curry
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, It was written with poetry and depth, a moving story, nonfictional but with a character arc. A truly good read.
Doug
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Still Points North is bracing and beautifully written. Especially captivating is how Leigh Newman traces the evolution and decay of the various denizens of fin de siècle America as they variously slide, crumble or leap into a new century. Just as she has convinced you that she is but a victim of the narcissisms of her father, who emerges in the first part of the book as sort of a revanchist hippie, and her mother, who begins as a feminist free-thinker that can't quite embrace womanhood, she lets ...more
Jessica
Jun 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
I was pretty disappointed with this book. It's a memoir about the author's childhood growing up in Alaska, so I thought it would be really interesting. But, it was more about how much her parent's divorce screwed her up both as a child and into adulthood. Her parents split up when she was 8 and she and her mother moved from Alaska to Baltimore, Maryland, but she spent each summer in Alaska with her Dad. Neither of her parents really talked to her about the divorce and she always felt like her lo ...more
Sarah
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is the memoir and first book of a woman my age who grew up traveling worldwide and eventually settling in NYC. It takes you vividly through every step of the way, recreating the characters, the emotions, the places, tastes and smells. Leigh is a former travel writer and child of divorce, who grew up between tom boy Alaska where she hunts and fishes, and Baltimore, where she learns about antiques and literature (among other things). It is a fascinating journey, peppered with hilarious l ...more
Kathy Piselli
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, northlands
I actually first read this book during a trip to Alaska when it first came out. I loved it then, love her writing and her turns of phrase (one that has stayed with me is saying something that's uncomfortable "fast, like ripping off a strip of duct tape"). Also, I never could get the Elizabeth Bishop poem that gives the book its title out of my mind. My father was dying the slow death of dementia which does give the family a long time to say goodbye, but in another sense the goodbye already happe ...more
Michelle
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! Could not put it down. It really resonated with me as a story of someone searching for identity - the difficulty of weaving together the disparate parts of yourself to find out who you really are, and the joy of finally finding your home. The author is from a divorced family but you do not need to be a child of divorce to strongly relate to this book. I also loved the vivid and amazing imagery of Alaska. I wanted to go to Alaska before I read this book but her writing brings i ...more
Melody
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: alamw13
An interesting, involving memoir of a chaotic childhood full of dysfunctional adults, disintegrating relationships, strange relatives and the odd bear. The POV is insanely tight, almost claustrophobic. The writing is pure but the feelings are muddy, full of quicksand. The ending came too soon, the story wrapped up in an endearing but still jarring epilogue. My review copy courtesy of ALA Midwinter.
Anna
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This child-of-divorce memoir reminded me of other memoirs I've read, specifically, Blood, Bones, and Butter, My Berlin Kitchen, and Glass Castle. However, Newman's story is unlike any other; it is uniquely unusual, almost unbelievably so.

I definitely liked the second half of the book more than the first half, which is why I landed on 4 stars instead of 3.
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Jenna
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
As an Alaskan girl, with a Great Alaskan Dad, whose parents divorced when she was young, this book hit home. A lovely story. A good read for anyone whose parents are very different from each other.
Jen
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I’m torn on this book a little bit. I enjoyed the parts where she talked about Alaska because some of the areas were familiar to me. Although her Great Alaskan experiences were very different than the ones I grew up having. Reading about her inability to stay in any one place for any amount of time and have hardly any personal items made It very difficult to connect with her. It was a little frustrating reading about all of her challenges with any kind of close relationship. Again, most of which ...more
Emily
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Moving from place to place, you develop routines to ease any confusion. Like never opening your suitcase your first day home. An open suitcase leads to long hours doing load after load of tedious laundry, which, in turn, only leads to your leaving for somewhere, anywhere else because you feel too overwhelmed about everything that needs to be done to get your life in that particular location started up again." 97

"[...] the smell of her skin like the world's original perfume." 172 (Re. her mother
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Kallie
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
What a childhood combo of roughing it and rich experience and adventure enjoyed by few people in our comfort-oriented, safe-living society. Newman's writing style is very engaging, but a bit cleverly overwrought and noisy and magazine and headlong for my taste; it did keep me reading I have to say, but prefer a quieter deeper experience. I would read more by her though, because she's insightful and damn! worldly as a person can be without coming off as snobby or precious. I have to admit to a bi ...more
Peter
Feb 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Ok memoir but disappointing. I loved her funny Alaska story, Howl Room, in best American Short Stories last year and thought this would be more the same. But written seven years ago, only the first part deals with her Alaskan childhood, and as it is written from the point of a child as she deals with the breakup of her parents marriage. The second part deals with her life as a publishing person and travel writer and the tensions of her marriage, perhaps tying to her childhood. That’s not what I ...more
Reeve Klatt
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookgroup
This was a beautiful memoir about both growing up in Alasak, the pain of divorced parents and living in two different states, and the coming to terms with who you are and that you need other people. I loved Newman's prose and how she didn't sugar coat anything or make it a book where she is pitied. Really recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about Alaska, split families, or your confusing 20s and 30s. ...more
Rosanna
Aug 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Found it just a little hard to equate the way Leigh treated people as an adult with her childhood. She didn't really explain well what had been SO terrible that she would have such incredible issues as an adult. It would have been revealing to read more about her mother and crazy grandmother, but she didn't really go there. But fairly well written and captivating. ...more
Carmen Gordon
Oct 08, 2018 rated it liked it
This book made me so uncomfortable. I had no idea that other people had such a struggle to accept themselves and their identity in life. I was miserable for the author, and couldn't wait to finish the book, not in a good way. ...more
Olga Vannucci
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No one can leave you
If you keep moving.
Sibyl
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Strong writing, but meh. Heard the author speak, and she was more engaging than her story.
Gina
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. If you enjoyed North of Normal you will enjoy this memoir.
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Leigh Newman’s memoir Still Points North is forthcoming from Dial Press in spring 2013. She is the Deputy Editor of Oprah.com where she writes about books, life, happiness, survival, and—on rare, lucky days—food. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in One Story, Tin House, The New York Times Modern Love and City sections, Fiction, New York Tyrant, O The Oprah Magazine, Oprah.com, Condé Nast ...more

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