How bad could the storm possibly have been, I wondered, as I read the first pages of Donn Fendler’s fantastically exciting memoir, Lost Trail. (Down East Books, 2011) Then five days ago, Sandy blew in with her hurricane force tropical tempest, and I realized how anxious bad weather can make us. Even though I was safe in my home, miles and miles from the storm’s true path, my heart was racing and my ability to prioritize real vs. imagined danger was compromised.
So, in that moment, it was easier for me to imagine how a 12-year-old Donn Fendler from New York felt when a storm blew in as he summited Mt. Katahdin 73 years ago ago.
When Donn went on a fishing trip with his father and a group of friends in the northern Maine woods in the summer of 1939, the only care on his mind was finding the best fishing spot. He never imagined he’d soon be in a race for his life.
Lost Trail is the true story of Donn’s 9-day adventure and struggle for survival alone on Mt. Katahdin, with nothing but the clothes on his back. It is an exciting, page turning, uplifting story, which has been retold in a fantastic graphic novel format with Lynn Plourde. The amazingly talented illustrator, Ben Bishop, has rendered the story with pen strokes that seem to grab the urgency of the situation and pull you into the story.
The story alone had me reading at a frantic pace, but the kicker is the actual newspaper articles and clippings from the Bangor Daily News, which chronicle the swell of people who surged in to help, and their trickling departure when it seemed all hope was lost. I couldn’t imagine what Donn’s parents were thinking and feeling the day that the News reported: “Boy’s Body Likely Found.”
Of course, since he tells the story himself, you know the ending is a happy one:
Mr. Fendler now splits his time between Tennessee and Maine. Through the years he has told his survival tale countless times, including in the 1939 book Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Joseph B. Egan (HarperCollins), which I’ll likely check out now for my son and I to read.
If you’re like me, you struggle with whether graphic novels are “really” books that your kids can “really” put on their reading log for school. Since he was tiny, my son has always gravitated toward anything resembling a comic. I remember snuggling my then two-year-old, wanting to read The Very Lonely Firefly, but instead reading something like: and then with his last mortal breath, Dr. Mentor slashed the antidote from the wretched hands of the evil bomb maker…ROARRRRR screamed Hulk, his sinewy muscles snapping….
I’ll tell you what, those ‘graphic novels’ often have some pretty juicy vocabulary. Lost Trail is no exception. The story is uber-compelling, and this re-telling is a guaranteed slam-dunk in any 8-10 year-old’s arsenal, reluctant reader or not!