Cover image for Raised in ruins : a memoir
Raised in ruins : a memoir

Physical Description:
274 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
1150 L Lexile
Corporate Subject:
A personal memoir of Tara Neilson's unconventional childhood growing up in the burnt remains of an old cannery in remote Southeast Alaska. --


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 NEILSON 0 1
Book 921 NEILSON 0 1

On Order

Stillwater Public Library1On Order



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An extraordinary memoir of a woman's unconventional childhood growing up in the Alaskan wilderness, on the grounds where the burned remains of a cannery once stood.

In the 1980s the Neilson family moved out on a floathouse to the remote site of a former cannery in Southeast Alaska that had burned to the ground before statehood. They were miles away from any neighbors, surrounded on all sides by wolves, bears and other wildlife, entering the world of subsistence living in an uninviting land of dangerous weather and storms; yet the Neilsons were able to make themselves a home where few others would have found possible. Led by a jack-of-all-trades handyman for a father and a mother who was afraid of everything in the wilderness, Tara and her four siblings cleared the rough terrain to build atop the blackened, rusty ruins a new way of life that was completely their own.

From a young age, Tara learned that anything was possible, so long as one can imagine it and then make it happen. When given her mother's impractical design of a six-bedroom house, her father picked up his tools and crafted it into a reality. To reach the closest community, they built a wooden boat sixteen feet long for the perilous journey on the water. The Alaska wilds required independence and self-sufficiency from the family, and in return it provided a natural landscape that inspired romantic passion and unlimited dreams. With endless forest on one side and the wide ocean on the other, Tara embraced the lonesomeness of the burned cannery ruins that she called home, and often wondered what it once was with its people inside, their stories, where they went, and what happened to them.

Beautifully poignant and completely original, Raised in Ruins escapes into the wilderness to discover a piece of Alaskan history wrapped in an incredible family adventure fueled by love, strength, hard work, endurance, and boundless imagination.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Freelance writer Neilson reflects upon her unconventional childhood in the remote Alaskan wilderness during the 1980s. Raised in a floathouse next to a burned-down cannery with her mother, father, and four siblings, the author describes an upbringing in which the realities and challenges of subsistence living coincided with memorable adventures and natural wonder. Using the vast wilderness as a backdrop to explore family relationships, the author writes about her Vietnam veteran father, a gifted craftsman who worked tirelessly to provide for his family but struggled to connect emotionally, and her mother, who imagined moving to Alaska her entire life but was fearful of the environment she long dreamed of. Neilson also relates the accidental and sudden death of her beloved uncle, writing with devastating frankness that it's "incredibly easy for fishermen to lose their lives in Alaska," where bad luck or bad weather can be fatal. Personal photographs seen in the advanced reader copy. VERDICT An additional purchase for medium and large collections where wilderness memoirs are in high demand.--Emily Patti, Palatine P.L. Dist., IL



One day when it was just my mom and us kids alone in the New House we'd built in the wilderness with our own labor, with lumber our dad milled himself, a huge brown bear paced back and forth in front of the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows in our game room where we spent most of our time. Back and forth, back and forth, it paced agitatedly, disturbed by our presence next to the salmon-choked creek. Our mom was terrified of guns, but she got down the 30.06, which she probably couldn't have shot if she tried, and told us kids to get upstairs. We ignored her. We figured if the bear broke in we'd all scatter and the bear might get one or two of us, but he wouldn't get us all. Our tension escalated as the huge mound of fur, teeth and claws continued its angry pacing. Finally he rounded the house, going around the kitchen to the front where our temporary door was made of thin pieces of wood and plastic. If it sneezed, the bear could break through it. We followed it from room to room, our hearts beating uncomfortably hard. Finally, we saw it head down to the creek. With the gun in hand, Mom stepped outside to make sure it kept going. She told us to stay inside, but, again, we ignored her. Suddenly my youngest brother, Chris, took off after the bear. "What are you doing? Get back here!" Mom whisper-yelled, afraid of alerting the bear. She gripped the gun helplessly. "Christopher Michael! Get back here, right now!"Chris kept running, gaining on the bear. The rest of kids stared after him, shocked. When no one moved, I sprinted after him. In front of us the huge bear lumbered toward the shining creek filled with salmon fins and sea gulls. This is crazy, this is crazy, I thought as I ran toward the bear. I collared Chris, and dragged him back. He fought me every inch of the way. I cast glances over my shoulder, sure the bear would come after us and shred us to pieces in front of our family. Fortunately, we all escaped a mauling that day. Excerpted from Raised in Ruins: A Memoir by Tara Neilson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.