All That We Carried – Erin Bartels

Erin Bartels

5/5
book on table

Intro

As the youngest of four sisters, I understood that this book would make me feel ALL the feelings and I was so right.

The story of two sisters being stuck together on a hike is not a situation I’ve ever found myself in, but I can imagine I would react more like Melanie (classic younger sister) than Olivia.

Synopsis

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a backcountry hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. Over the years, they grew apart, each coping with the loss in her own way. Olivia plunged herself into law school, work, and an atomistic view of the world—what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life-coaching business around her cafeteria-style spirituality—a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy.

Now, at Melanie’s insistence (and against Olivia’s better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they’ll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.

Michigan Notable Book Award winner Erin Bartels draws from personal experience hiking backcountry trails with her sister to bring you a story about the complexities of grief, faith, and sisterhood.

Review

Having lost a parent, and it being a similar amount of time that he’s passed to the book; this just resonated so much with me. Death of one parent can make anyone spiral into a path that they weren’t prepared for, never mind if they both die in a car crash and there doesn’t seem like any justice has been served. Olivia and Melanie are polar opposites of each other, and it shows in their interactions even in the first 30 pages.

Melanie is a free spirit; she picks and chooses the best parts of different faiths and belief systems and needs to believe them. She helps others along their paths and although I got the initial feeling that she loved it; I quickly came to the realisation that it must have been so draining for her. Toxic positivity isn’t any better than negativity.

Olivia is more guarded; she is firm in what she does and doesn’t believe in. She is practical, a typical oldest sibling in making sure that the path she’s on is always the right one. Olivia seems happy in her job and life that she’s chosen but not speaking to your sister must take its toll, right?

Death and grief processes is a huge part of this book and it made me think of how I reacted and still react regarding my own father’s death. There’s a lot to unpack that isn’t for a book review but let’s just say I have my own work to do!

Olivia and Melanie get themselves into some extreme situations during their hike, Erin did such a fantastic job of describing all the different places; I now want to go hiking in the US (which will undoubtedly not excite my partner). The person that continually gets them out of these scrapes, Josh is like a knight in shining armour – or checked shirts and waders – and the story between him and Olivia plays out into a semi-predictable ending.

Erin writes such a beautiful book about dealing with grief, how your faith can change with a few conversations. A run-in with a very Jesus-esque character, falling into freezing streams, falls, trips, arguments and an escape from the woods including some major changes in both sister’s lives made for a book that will stay with me for a very long time. I’ve adopted their mother’s saying of ‘what’s done is done and cannot be undone’ because I think it’s so true. We cannot change the past; we can only change our reaction to it and deal with the aftermath.

The moments of flashbacks to their childhood made me think of Anna and Elsa in Frozen (which is probably not what she was aiming for, sorry), and how sisters can change so much from being best friends to practically being enemies in an instant. You could definitely tell what sort of person they would grow up to be from those little excerpts.

Forgiveness plays a huge part in this book and is woven through every relationship that the girls have throughout the book. Olivia needs to forgive her sister for a betrayal, Melanie needs to forgive Olivia for moving away and seemingly abandoning her. There’s a few more instances but I don’t want to ruin the book!

There are secrets to be discovered, lots of laughs and yes, I did ugly cry at the end of the book. I’m not ashamed. It’s made me want to hike in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, it made me get angry at both women at separate points – they are equally exasperating but aren’t all sisters? Their lives are so different, but can they find a way to become close and act like sisters rather than strangers? I think so, why don’t you buy a copy and see for yourself?

I received a gifted copy of this book for an honest review.

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