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|All That We Carried
By Erin Bartels / Revell
I love it when a novel’s setting is a main character. Erin Bartels’ newest release titled All That We Carried is based in the Porcupines Mountains Wilderness State Park located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She does a beautiful job capturing the majesty of the waterfalls, the vastness of Lake Superior, and the park’s rugged wilderness. I could even sense the trail dirt and grime that hung on our sibling hikers during their journey. Melanie and Olivia agree to the late fall hike even though they have remained estranged for at least ten years. Their separation began when they lost their parents in a fatal car accident. The oldest sister, Olivia dealt with the tragedy by disappearing from her hometown and immersing herself in college, then law school, and then her career as a prosecutor. Melanie, left with the duty of being executor of her parent’s estate, struggled through it all and battled depression. She felt quite alone through the whole process. The story begins on the day of their hike. One Melanie suggested as a way to reunite. Melanie hoped hearts would be shared over campfires, but the warm fuzzy feelings were in short supply for most of the expedition. Practical Olivia was sure she had thought of everything to ensure hiking success. Their plans and reality rarely intersected. They were derailed by missed sign markers, bad weather, physical hurts, lost maps, and forest fires.
Looming throughout the whole story was, “What to do about Justin?” Olivia’s close teenage friend, until Justin drove recklessly and caused their parents’ tragic death. Olivia cut ties with Justin and harbored bitterness toward him. A feeling that festered unabated for a decade. Melanie ended up forming a relationship with Justin. The pair were drawn together by their grief. As they expressed their sorrows and hurts, a relationship blossomed. Olivia grew even more angry with Melanie when she discovered Melanie had forgiven Justin.
Circling around the question of to forgive or not, is a bigger question connected to their perspective on life. Should everyone be like Olivia and plan everything out to the last detail in an effort to control the outcomes and avoid risk? Is Melanie’s view more acceptable? She has adopted bits and pieces of all religions hoping her efforts to do all the right things will bring her safety and enduring happiness. The author lays out a well reasoned case that nudges both girls to a Christian faith, pointing to the One who is in control despite what often seems to us as chaotic.
Flashback moments are sprinkled throughout this novel. Different page designs alert you to the plot changes. At first, I found them abrupt, questioning if they were necessary plot diversions. They did help the reader learn more about the siblings during their early years and Justin’s back story. So I can see how each earned its place in the book.
All That We Carried was very enjoyable. I would recommend it with enthusiasm. It’s the second Erin Bartels book I’ve read and I would be happy to pass it on to one of my reading buddies. I received a complimentary book from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.