The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

1999. Scribner. Hardcover. 224 pages.

From: the public library

Recommended by: Teresa and Jenny of Shelf Love

In a nutshell:

Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland is out hiking with her older brother and her mother, when she steps off the trail to pee and subsequently gets very lost.  With piecemeal survival knowledge, she tries to find her way to civilization.  She is buoyed by the baseball games she can hear on her Walkman radio but also frightened by signs that she is being stalked by something nonhuman.

Review:

This is the very first book I have read by Stephen King.  I was feeling that I should give him a try since he hails from Maine, my original home state.  When Jenny and Teresa of Shelf Love wrote a post with recommendations for Stephen King newbies, I took up one of their suggestions, this survival tale called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

At first, I thought the voice of Trisha McFarland felt forced (the book is written mostly in third-person limited, with some omniscient narrator interjections).  Writing from a young child’s perspective can be tricky, and Trisha’s inner monologues were a bit annoying at the start.  As the business of survival settled in, however, Trisha seemed to crystallize and become sharper as a character.

I think I saw some reviews that said this book was light on scares, but I thought it was satisfyingly creepy and was rapidly flipping the pages to the end.  Getting lost in the woods and feeling ‘watched’ by something malevolent touches on some primal fears.  I thought the slight paranormal element of the narrative was effective in part due to its restraint.

Tom Gordon is a baseball pitcher idolized by Trisha, and thoughts of her hero help steady her as her ordeal drags on.  As her mental and emotional state deteriorates, she even imagines that she sees him walking beside her at times.  In this, the book reminded me strongly of Geraldine McCaughrean’s book The White Darkness which I read last year.  In The White Darkness, the teenage protagonist idolized the doomed explorer Titus Oates, and ‘conversed’ with him as she fought for survival in Antarctica.

I thought the climactic encounter of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was contrived and a bit underwhelming, but I liked how Trisha’s story ended overall.  Also, Stephen King did a great job of describing the Maine / New Hampshire woods.  Having grown up there, I could definitely visualize the terrain he described.

Other reviews:

A Life in Books – “There are some truly scary moments in this novel, including a feverish dream involving robed priest-like figures, and I think if I had been reading this book in front of a fire in a cabin in the woods, rather than on the deck of a beach house at sunset as the ocean breeze wafted over me, I would have been really frightened, and probably would have had nightmares myself.”

Caribousmom – “[King] keeps it interesting from beginning to end with palm sweating descriptions and suspense.”

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5 Comments

Filed under Mysteries & Thrillers

5 responses to “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

  1. I’ve read a few of his books, and it amazes me how he can create such an interesting story when it’s mainly just one character. Misery is similar in that respect.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this. It’s one of my favorite Kings, largely because of the way Trisha develops and the way he retrains himself with the paranormal elements. (Sometimes King is not so good with the restraint.)

    I’ve probably said at some point that I didn’t find this scary, but you’re right that there is a creepiness to it–it’s just not the kind of creepiness that keeps me up at night. For me, this was more suspenseful than scary.

  3. I’ve read a few books by King (prior to blogging) and this is one of them. I remember it just being okay for me and I would recommend Bag of Bones by King. (I think that is the title..at least it is close) The Green Mile is another really good read by him. Great review!

  4. Kathleen – It is an impressive feat to base a story almost entirely on one person and what’s going on in his or her head.

    Teresa – Yeah, I agree that the story is not terrifying, more suspenseful/creepy. The reviews I was responding to were from goodreads, I think, and seemed to be criticizing the book for not being scary enough, and thus a ‘bad’ Stephen King book.

    Samantha – Thanks for the recommendations! I looked up the synopsis of Bag of Bones and it does sound intriguing.

  5. Oh, and I thought I had read all Stephen King. I should try and pick up this one. If you liked this book, you should try Misery, truly chilling.

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