Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Mountain Lion” as Want to Read:
The Mountain Lion
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Mountain Lion

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  514 ratings  ·  87 reviews
Eight-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable, in league with each other against the stodgy and stupid routines of school and daily life; against their prim mother and prissy older sisters; against the world of authority and perhaps the world itself. One summer they are sent from the genteel Los Angeles suburb that is their home to backcountry Col ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 10th 2010 by New York Review of Books (first published 1972)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Mountain Lion, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Mountain Lion

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  514 ratings  ·  87 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: carve your name into a tree
Recommended to Mariel by: how the west was won and where it got me
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I was expecting a coming-of-age story set in the beautiful mountains of Colorado: a pleasant jaunt as two siblings battled the confusion of growing out of childhood. What we get instead is a disturbing story of two kids on different trajectories: one accepting the path to adulthood and the other clinging to childhood and the desire to isolate herself from humanity.

The writing is fantastic. Stafford can switch perspectives mid-sentence which I found to be a lot of fun. The ending is wholly unexp
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Complicated (but told in a remarkably straightforward style), sad, strange, wise, and always compelling, The Mountain Lion is frequently categorized as a coming-of-age novel. But brothers, sisters, genteel mothers, portraits of dead grandfathers, the lingering scars of scarlet fever, and the limited use that a Colorado cattle ranch (or the west in general) has for a smart, artistic and sickly young girl-- all of these things add up to ensure that nobody ever really comes of age in this novel.

Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-west
Jean Stafford doesn't pull her punches in this California-Colorado coming of age. Awkward and sickly siblings Ralph and Molly are inseparable and co-dependent until they start to spend summers with their uncle Claude in Colorado, where Ralph pulls away from their insular, shared world in favor of the virile camaraderie of his uncle and his uncle's ranch hands. The author deftly alternates between the siblings' two viewpoints, and their thoughts and feelings have dream-like, breathtaking intensit ...more
This is a wonderful hidden gem -- I couldn't put it down. Luminous descriptions of sibling rivalry in the 1940s in a middle-class home in California and then on a cattle ranch in Colorado. Excellent portrayal of the inner drama of adolescence without any psychobabble. Straightforward writing, eminently readable, and totally unpretentious. This should be required reading for all high school seniors.
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star-books
Flat declarative writing that somehow manages to be sharply photographic a the same time. Someone said this is a 'not coming-of-age' tale. Someone else talks about the absence of 'psychobabble' in the observations of these developing children. Ditto.

Captivated by sentences like "The smoke from Winifred's cigarette went straight up and then opened out into a horn like a blue lily." and "Once out in the bright green meadows of the valley he thought he would be safe from the thoughts that swarmed a
Sutter Lee
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's been 20 years since I read this, after a friend lent me his copy, with praise for Stafford as his favorite novelist. I then read some of her other novels and short stories, but cannot recall which ones. I've been unable to remember her name, only Jean, and a title with the word Lion. I wrote to him last night (he's in his early 80s, so thank goodness he's still alive and has all his marbles (I knew he was/did -- is/does) and he immediately wrote back. What I really remember is Stafford's in ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The two children that are the main characters of this book are so emotionally disturbed that it was sometimes hard to relate to them. Also, since this book was written in the 1940's some of the racially derogatory words were problematical and made the book seem dated. However, the ending, which I won't divulge, came as such a surprise that I gave the book 4 stars.
Mar 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any and all
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Malena Watrous
Jean Stafford, another dark genius who should be read widely. She nails the awkwardness of adolescence and the changing relationship of a misfit sister and brother. I will take the image of a pair of ram skulls locked at the antlers to my grave.
I did not necessarily like this book but I respected it a lot. (I have a hard time with any book that is rugged or western in general -- maybe because I am an liberal East Coast elite? -- so my lack of emotional connection is perhaps not surprising. I do have an affinity for well-drawn and deeply unlikable characters, though, which this book delivered in spades.) Whatever your literary preferences, this is undeniably a very well-crafted and masterfully written book. I'm glad I read it even thoug ...more
May 11, 2019 rated it liked it
The Mountain Lion was a book masterfully written and weird at the same time. I was ingrained with the back and forth narrative between two siblings- A coming of age tale about the awkwardness of sister Molly and brother Stafford.

I read this book in less than twenty-four hours. Still, I was quite emotionally disturbed just like the minds of the brother and sister duo after I completed the book. What was most troubling was the unexpected ending. Molly, oh Molly.

Although I read this narrative and
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That ending fucked me up.
Sasha Martinez
Jean Stafford‘s introduction to her 1947 novel, The Mountain Lion, closes with: “Poor old Molly! I loved her dearly and [spoiler spoiler spoiler].” That never augurs well. You begin the novel wary of tragedy, anticipating brokenness and all-around disaster. That you feel, even within the first few pages, that it shall all lead to you bawling in a shady corner. I know I let out one of those hoarse/squeaky screams in a crowded train when I reached the book’s end. But we’re getting ahead of ourselv ...more
Apr 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't dislike The Mountain Lion, but I am a bit baffled by it. It's about a young boy named Ralph and his cantankerous sister Molly growing up out West shortly after WWII. At the time, Los Angeles was still surrounded by orchards and groves, and these refined Easterners struggled to maintain their dainty civilities in the face of rustic Western ways. Ralph and Molly are caught in the middle, between East and West, daintiness and hardiness, between youth and adulthood. Their united front falte ...more
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful, powerful, weird. It lures you in with a very matter of fact story of two siblings in 1940s California. But then... I am so glad this is a book club book and I will get to talk about it with wiser friends. I have so many questions... But the book affected me very strongly.
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's impossible to explain my four rather than five stars without a spoiler. Suffice it to say that for years I've meant to read Stafford's novel and am glad that I finally did. NYRB Classics are always provocative.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading in preparation for Dead Writers Book Group in October: http://deadwritersbookgroup.wordpress...

(my god, what an ending!).
The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford is stunning in terms of prose and story in its beautiful evocation of California and Colorado settings, but most memorably in relating the disgust of children for adults. When her brother's lascivious remark passes the line from childhood to adulthood, ("he has literally beat a rivet of hatred into my heart by a remark he passed on the train today") ten-year-old Molly, two years younger than Ralph, despises him and their special bond is broken. Molly is a fanta ...more
David Rosario
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vincent Desjardins
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
A couple of things kept me from giving this book 5 stars. One is that the main characters, Ralph and Molly are not very sympathetic, but then again, I'm not sure they are supposed to be. The other thing that kept me from giving this a higher rating is the derogatory racial attitudes that are sprinkled throughout. Since this book is from 1947, I guess some of the remarks made in the book should come as no surprise, but still it does detract from the sympathies you might otherwise give these chara ...more
Jocelyn mel
This wonderful woman could write the pants off most authors I know. Right now, I'm enamored with the mid-century artists and their place in history fascinates me. I've always thought that approaching history through a spectrum of novels written from a particular era give such great insight. Anyway, this is a sad spectacular dramatic story of kids who come crashing into young adulthood from their childhood. The quoteables are many: "He could not hear what they said, but he could imagine the shape ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Molly and Ralph are siblings living with their mother and two older sisters in a middle to upper class lifestyle in California that entirely does not fit them. They enjoy being dirty and unmannered, and Molly especially perplexes those around her with her oddities and wit. Molly and Ralph are close siblings at the start, bonded through feeling like outsiders, but then that all changes when they begin spending time with their Uncle in Denver. The subtleties of this novel are profound as much is s ...more
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book deeply engaging; the family and their struggles were portrayed with astonishing psychological detail and lovely little humorous asides. The contrast between upper middle class life in southern California, early 20th Century, and life on a working ranch in Colorado was fascinating. Even the difference between "fancy" cross country trains and the local trains through the abandoned gold rush towns of Colorado described significant and meaningful aspects of the life of the West.
Susan Neuwirth
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book, not known by any of my good reader friends, in the NYT book review section. One of the authors being reviewed mentioned this book was on her bedside table. She used words like mysterious and mystical. Not sure I’d use those words but it was a fantastic read along the lines of Rebecca West - really well written. Two siblings, a few years a part, daughter very odd but you don’t ever know what with and her brother, Ralph. Strange mother. Jean Stafford seems to be a writer no one ...more
Sarah Swedberg
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is my favorite book this year, although the book was originally published in 1947. It's an adult novel about children, and it's an adult novel that gets childhood, or at least childhood for those of us who were odd, sometimes enraged, and often believed we would never find a place to fit.

Molly is furious, crazy, genius, and unhappy.

I can't remember how I found this novel, but I'm glad I did.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

A poignant story about growing up.

I really liked it. The ending was powerful, impactful, and very rightly earned even though it made me want to chuck my book out a window.

There's a slow patch in the beginning that ends up taking over a little too much of this book, but at least when it gets good, it gets really good.
Daniel Polansky
A precocious girl and her brother try and navigate adolescence, their rigidly prosaic family, and the wildness fastness of the Rocky Mountains in this strange and lovely text. Beautifully written, strangely horrifying, I'd have a lot more to say about it but I read it a month ago and my memory is a little scuzzy, but basically it's well worth your time.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well-written with a wealth of thought-provoking conflicts and contrasts. Shocking ending...although on second thought, perhaps not so shocking.

Food: Choose a hot drink to sip on in order to keep your hands free to turn pages and write comments in the margins.

Christopher Renberg
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nyrb
A good read. I liked the depiction of young folks at play awhile back. Stafford drew her two main characters well in their ebb and flow of adolescence. I was more fascinated by Molly. Maybe it is because I never had sisters. It was quick to read, and I needed that.
Kevin Bertolero
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Damn Jean Stafford, fucking slay me
« previous 1 3 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
NYRB Classics: This topic has been closed to new comments. December 2014: The Mountain Lion 17 46 Dec 19, 2014 09:16PM  
NYRB Classics: The Mountain Lion, by Jean Stafford 1 5 Oct 29, 2013 09:22AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Manservant and Maidservant
  • The Furies
  • During the Reign of the Queen of Persia
  • The Outward Room
  • Alfred and Guinevere
  • Testing the Current
  • School for Love
  • Memoirs of Hecate County
  • Indian Summer
  • Ride a Cockhorse
  • Cassandra at the Wedding
  • A Meaningful Life
  • Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • The Fox in the Attic (The Human Predicament, #1)
  • Eustace and Hilda
  • The Judges of the Secret Court
See similar books…
Jean Stafford was an American short story writer and novelist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford in 1970.

“He whirled round and round in his rapid love; it pricked him on the breastbone like a needle. He wanted to be shut up in a small space to think about it. He wanted to grab it and eat it like an apple so that nobody else could have it.” 1 likes
More quotes…