“Olivia obliged, but the smile felt fake. She had utterly lost control of this trip that she had so meticulously planned. Wrong turns, lost trails, uninvited guests. And now she was being told to smile.”
All That We Carried is a beautiful novel about two estranged sisters. One is a lawyer, one is an online Life Coach, with her own DIY spirituality, who invites her sister for a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So what could go wrong?
Everything, apparently, and it starts straight away, making me smile in sympathy with Olivia, the older sister. I rolled my eyes along with her, but Melanie is so bubbly and carefree, I couldn’t help liking her. They finally start their hike, and the author, Erin Bartels, paints the different characters beautifully. You get a real sense of knowing the sisters.
More and more goes wrong, the hyper-efficient Olivia was making my sympathies shift towards Melanie over time. Until the story moved back to Olivia’s perspective, haha, and that’s one of the things I think is brilliant about this book. It’s not one awful character against a wonderful character, it’s so well done and subtle, and you shift along with their moods and points of view.
It’s so hard to tell you about this book without spoilers! Sigh, you’ll just have to read it for yourself! What I can tell you is the gorgeous scenery, and the author’s knowledge and love for hiking comes out. She shares how she often hikes with her sister but assures us they’re not at all like Olivia and Melanie, and they haven’t got the series of disasters either! I love how Erin Bartels describes the views, the waterfalls and blue lakes. It’s done in a few well-chosen words, drawing you into the mountainous area, feeling the chilly winds, sore feet and burning shoulders, but all that is forgotten at the next turn in the path when the stunning vistas come in view. The author’s experience of those beautiful regions shines through, and I really appreciated it, as I love travelling, and it made me feel part of those special views.
All That We Carried is not simply two squabbling sisters on a hiking trip. As the blurb will tell you, the last time they were on a hiking trip, their parents were in a fatal accident. So the trip brings back memories, as well as forcing both sisters to deal with the reality of their loss. It tells about the different ways of coping with their parents’ death, and how they view the world around them in light of the accident.
The book is a journey of faith, written in an engaging, searching way. There are no quick fixes or glib answers. I liked the little flashbacks (written in cursive on shaded paper, lovely touch!), as again they told me more about the sisters’ characters, and how they came to be the people they are now. Although the hiking trip is central to the book, I felt that the characters were most important, and I loved how the interaction between the sisters, their thoughts and fears, almost pushed the hike into the background! I think that’s amazing, and I loved that about the book. Yes, there are walking things, and setting up tents etc, but again, that brought out the different characters. Never take food into a tent, not even a peppermint, apparently, and Olivia was extremely clear about that. I felt myself blush along with Melanie, who hadn’t even thought about that (I wouldn’t have known either, and like Melanie would probably be more inclined to think, “Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine”), and so it isn’t about how to set up camp. It’s the drawing of the characters, done wonderfully.
The first thing I noted about this book is the amazing cover. The colours are stunning and the cover is actually in relief, giving the book an incredible feel (sadly as an indie publisher, that’s not an option for any of my book, haha). The book is available from all booksellers.
I was given a copy for The Book Tour but was under no obligation to write a favourable review. This blog is my personal view; I was under no pressure to write what I did. I will always be honest in my reviews.