Togwotee Passage – Book Review

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Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“A common hindrance in life is our own thinking.”

This story was a delightful account of one character’s incredible life journey, experiencing nature and new experiences to the fullest. The author has created something really unique that will appeal to a range of readers looking for a good adventure to get their teeth into. I particularly enjoyed the sprinkle of unexpected twists, and I’m sure you all will too – very happy to be able to share my review of this one!

The story begins with a dysfunctional family life in the 1940s that stains Calan’s outlook. When the abuse escalates to life-threatening, an intervention introduces him to wilderness on a grand scale, as well as a Shoshone friend with a differing perspective of life. This but fledgling steps in a life of unexpected twists and turns. With off-the-beaten-path experiences and intimately relatable characters, this tale is a thought kindling journey of mind and spirit, complemented with expressive illustrations.

The beginning.

Cullen’s style of writing was the first thing I noticed as being completely unique compared to the majority of other books I’ve read. The story is in present tense, with a young boy, Calan, being the main character. It’s the 1940’s, and Calan seems confused and somewhat hurt by the actions of his father. He can’t work out his irrational behaviour, especially when there are other war veterans with a much calmer outlook. The author has, straight away, allowed us to really see into Calan’s mind and how he thinks, and we join him as he works out life and what things mean. I made a mental note to keep my eye on Calan’s father to see if his attitude towards his family changed in any way, or whether his experience of war had turned him somewhat bitter and traumatised for the foreseeable future.

I quickly began to enjoy Calan’s journey of discovery and meeting a whole neighbourhood of characters who educate him in the right way, teaching him right from wrong and simply helping him to make new discoveries about life. Calan’s father is still acting aggressively, gaining himself a good few enemies in the process and even lying to others in order to save his own skin. As we see Calan grow up into a teenage boy, we see him take more responsibility with chores and helping his Aunt who he’s currently residing with, learning that chores weren’t just what people were told to do, but something that everyone pitched in with as best they could. I knew learning these skills in his early teens would prove to be useful for him later down the line.

As well as writing the words, the author has also drawn illustrations to accompany the story, which was a nice touch and really helps with the visualisation process. This doesn’t mean the words are difficult to imagine, however – quite the opposite! I think the descriptions of characters and scenery were easy to envisage and complemented the story very well. Calan’s love of the outdoors gives the reader so much to visualise and allows us to form theories and conclusions for the story. I found the story so far to also be an educational tool – it taught me a lot about life, different cultures, as well as nature and the big wide world outside! I was curious to see the path Calan would go down throughout his life and what his experiences will be. I had a feeling he was about to embark on a fun, action-packed and unforgettable adventure with the new friends he’s made along the way.

“Why haven’t I seen other war veterans in the neighborhood drunk and hurtful? Are some people mean no matter? Nothin’ makes sense with grown-ups.”

Calan and his friend Derek are very bright kids, and it was really refreshing hearing them discussing ancestors and the world as we know it. The boys make plans to hike up to the mountain lake, which sparks up a lot of excitement for Calan. The views, wildlife and overall experience is breathtaking for him, and the trek makes him think once again about Derek’s ancestors, and how they prepared for a trip such as this. The pair discuss history and what is before them in detail, and I really enjoyed how much I learned from these characters on this trip alone! The author has done a great job at filling the book with information which is not only interesting to the reader, but which is also crucial to the story. I was looking forward to where the middle of the book took these characters!

The middle.

The story follows Calan and his friends and family through different years of his life, and even though this is an usual route to take, I think it’s been done very well! As time passes, Calan and Brent, his cousin, have a fair few altercations and begin to disagree on a number of things, which gives Calan the strength to leave his Aunt’s home and set off on his own. I felt like the disagreements and violent behaviour from his cousin reminded him too much of his father, and that he had to get out of there as soon as possible. I really felt for Calan at this point, but I also thought his decision was the right one. As he makes his way up the mountains far from anyone he knows, I began to get a little concerned for his safety, but also a little excited for what he’d experience and how he would cope in a new place.

Calan realises just how life can change in an instant and how one action can have so many consequences. His independence grows over the years, and from being a confused young boy questioning the way of the world, we see his growth and strength in everything he does. However, after suffering a serious incident which lands him in a hospital bed and losing someone close to him, Calan must grow up and take even more responsibility to really settle into this new normal, which he does admirably. The author builds on this emotion well which even had an effect on me, too! I felt a little sorry for Calan after everything he’d experienced and had to put up with through his life, but I always believe that hard times will make you a much stronger person, something which I thought would add to my reading experience.

We soon learn of Calan’s time in the military and of his new job, which allows him to be outside with nature – something he’s always appreciated since being a young boy. As he reaches his thirties, it’s good to see that he’s gotten a hold of life, even working hard for further education. It’s also nice to catch up with other characters from earlier in the story and seeing how much they’ve grown over the years too. Calan plans some new adventures hiking in the mountains, spending some much needed time away from other people where he can and working with his friend, Derek, even with a bear warning and other potential dangers ahead. Each journey he takes was a pleasure to read and again, I found myself enthralled in the conversations Calan took part in about ancestors, nature and life, further educating me in these topics. It was so easy to get lost in their discussions!

“Seeing life change so much so abruptly, and experiencing his own helplessness in the face of it is devastating.”

As his life moves on, Calan gets a job in IT, a whole lot different to what he’s used to! With stress building in the role and yet another near fatal accident, Calan decides he needs to move on. I really admired and understood his reasons for this, and I had a good feeling about where his path would take him next. The great outdoors has always called his name, and humanity always seemed to disappoint him in one way or another. The author has consistently kept Calan’s story engaging throughout each chapter, with new discoveries and life lessons learnt along the way. I loved how in-depth the story is where each main character is concerned, and even though there is a lot more focus on character than plot throughout, I still managed to get so much enjoyment out of the book. It was a completely new experience for me!

The end.

At this point, the story doesn’t just focus on Calan – we hear from his wife, Kay, and friend Derek’s point of view, which positively changed things up a little. There is good news and bad, and the characters involved are forced to adapt to a new way of life, Calan in particular. The author has really handled these topics well, and even though we aren’t spoon fed every detail of the characters’ lives, our imaginations can easily fill in the blanks. This is a skill that can be hard to achieve, but the creation of the author’s characters and just how much we get to know them throughout the book aids this considerably. Even at this point, I was impressed with how the story was concluding, and had confidence the ending of the story would be rounded off well.

With yet another heartbreaking scene, I found myself really becoming attached to the final part of the story and even Calan’s character. He’s had an action-packed life full of highs and lows, and his experiences create quite an extraordinary story that other people can surely learn from. With little explanation, Calan soon finds himself in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, forcing the reader to ask many questions surrounding his whereabouts. We hear a lot about what Calan is thinking in his head as he makes sense of the situation he’s found himself in, and I particularly enjoyed witnessing his hallucinations, even if these were a little scary to understand for him at his point!

The story at this point took me a couple of reads to understand, but after a second read through, it became much clearer to me. It’s full of wisdom, with a number of elders sharing their own views and explanations – Calan tries to make sense of it all, as did I, and I found the words particularly deep and thought-provoking. I knew this part of the story would be a favourite for many readers! I loved the focus on nature throughout the book and this particular scene really solidified a lot of things we learned from the very beginning. Calan thinks further about what he’s managed to achieve in his life and the lives of others along his journey, and I enjoyed the reflection from this character.

“When his eyes revert to opaqueness, and quiet ensues in my mind, I’m breathless with the exhilaration of physical life, but calmed.”

I found the ending of the story unexpected, but it was welcomed and forces the reader to think further about what we’ve experienced in the book. It wasn’t rounded off in a way that answers every question on our minds, but I think these kinds of endings are the best! I did, however, find myself wanting to know more about other characters that we met along Calan’s journey. This lack of information didn’t negatively affect the story in any way, and I kind of enjoyed drawing up some of my own conclusions. Overall, I enjoyed Calan’s life story very much, and it’d be really refreshing to see many more stories with a similar style – it worked incredibly well!

Overall thoughts.

Reading this book was a pleasant experience, and I really enjoyed following Calan’s story from being a curious young boy to a wise retired man with mountains of life experience. I loved how the natural world played a big part in the story, with each chapter as thought-provoking and captivating as the previous. I also liked how well readers get to know Calan as a person, and I found myself sharing his emotions when experiencing the good and the bad. The book doesn’t necessarily focus on a deeply developed plot, but is much more character driven, which really worked in its favour. A delightful adventure that is perfect for those looking for something a little bit different from the norm!

Thanks so much to the author, L.G. Cullens for the copy of the book for me to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of Togwotee Passage over on Amazon, available on Kindle. Make sure you follow the author over on Twitter and Instagram for more updates!

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