From the author's website:
Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland strays from the path while she and her recently divorced mother and brother take a hike along a branch of the Appalachian Trail. Lost for days, wandering farther and farther astray, Trisha has only her portable radio for comfort. A huge fan of Tom Gordon, a Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, she listens to baseball games and fantasizes that her hero will save her. Nature isn't her only adversary, though - something dangerous may be tracking Trisha through the dark woods.
Amazon: Average 3.7. Mode: 5 stars.
Goodreads: Average 3.35. Mode: 3 stars.
Stephen King has always been one of my favorite authors. I don't think he's a great author, the sort whose work will stand the test of time and make him the Charles Dickens of future generations (for one thing, a lot of his work becomes dated quickly with all of his pop culture references), but I do think he's a damn fine storyteller, the sort of who can make a book about a girl lost in the woods entertaining and even exciting. Of all the King novels I've read, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon wouldn't rank as one of my favorites, but I did enjoy it more than I've liked a lot of his more recent stuff. (I may be committing King-fan heresy here, but I've only read the first volume of the Dark Tower series, and I just couldn't get into it.)
The summary above gives you the plot in a nutshell: nine-year-old Trisha wanders off the path during a day hike, beginning a nine-day ordeal in which she manages to cover over thirty miles, crossing forests and bogs and marshes and wandering all the way from Maine to New Hampshire. King always researches the little details, which is what makes her improbable journey somehow plausible, and because he's such a fine storyteller, he manages to stretch it out over the course of 264 pages without it ever dragging. In retrospect, however, it did seem more like a novella from one of his short story collections (e.g., Different Seasons) padded out to novel length.
It has all the usual trademark King elements: certain words and pop culture references (some genuine, some made-up) take on a disproportionate importance in the story; the main character suffers both remarkably good and catastrophically bad strokes of luck; adults are shown in all their honest, fucked-up frailty; a vaguely pseudo-spiritual current runs through the story. (I know King's not an atheist, but his belief in something resembling a deity seems to be wishful thinking more than anything heartfelt.) Trisha suffers one miserable bone-bruising experience after another, until the poor girl is a bruised, bitten, bleeding bag of bones, literally on death's door when the story reaches its climax. Of course it wouldn't be a Stephen King story without a touch of the weird supernatural, and here, it is the Thing in the woods, the God of the Lost, a barely-seen monster that stalks Trisha all throughout her journey, and until the very end we are left unsure whether it's an actual creature or just one of her hallucinations.
King doesn't forget that protagonists have to be proactive, though, and Trisha is an endearing character. She's only nine, so much of what happens to her is beyond her control, but she's brave and resourceful and plucky and everything you expect a heroine to be, but not unrealistically so. (She's still a little girl lost in the woods, so quite naturally, she's terrified most of the time.)
I expected this to be one of his "lighter" books. The violence and gross-out elements were very minor compared to most of his books. And while I knew King is not above writing a grisly demise for a nine-year-old girl, I figured he probably wouldn't kill off a nine-year-old girl when she's the main character.
Verdict: If you like King, then this book should satisfy even if it's not mindblowing or one of his darker gems. If King makes you nervous because of all the gore and grue he's noted for, then you might try this book as an example of his storytelling skills, since it's fairly light on the ick-factor.