All That We Carried

“Always being on guard against what might happen to you seems like kind of an exhausting way to live. When you block out the possibility of bad surprises, don’t you lose the possibility of good surprises too?” ~ Erin Bartels, All That We Carried

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a backcountry hiking trip when their parents were killed in a 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.


  1. We would starve to death – beef jerky and dried berries is no way to live.
  2. Neither of us would poop in the woods – you’re supposed to carry your shovel and bury your stuff
  3. A wild animal would eat us, or at least maul us – and we’ve spent some serious money on these complexions.
  4. We’d whine incessantly – and try to top each other’s problems.
  5. We’d get lost – map reading is not our spiritual gift and Siri doesn’t answer questions in the wilderness.
  6. Sleeping in a tent is a big downer – my back hurts just thinking about it.
  7. We’re sissies – actually, that is a reason all on its own.

Camping is not our jam. It didn’t work out too well for Olivia and Melanie Green, the protagonists in All That We Carried, either. Bartels’ book is a wonderful treatise on the power of forgiveness, the true beauty in our differences, and the complexities of grief, faith, and sisterhood. Since I probably won’t be hiking in the UP anytime soon, I appreciated the author’s vivid portrait of the Porcupine Mountains in the autumn. “Beech and birch trees shone bright yellow against the pines and firs, and shocks of red sumac rose like waves along the roadside.” Or this: “White foam tinged with brown from the tannins that leeched from the cedar trees, like a river of root beer.” I could visualize the landscape, hear the river rapids, smell the leaves crushing beneath my feet, and hear the buzz of the insects swarming around my head.

One of my favorite parts of her book is in the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements. Here’s how she gives credit to God: “May you be my compass when I stray, my helper when I stumble, and ever the object of my deepest devotion.” Amen sister, Amen. This was my first book by Erin Bartels and I just loved it. 4 stars.

Categories: Christian fiction, fiction, contemporary fiction.
Read-alikes: The long journey to Jake Palmer (James L. Rubart), All the Things We Knew (Catherine West), More Than We Remember (Christina Suzann Nelson), The Wednesday Letters (Jason F. Wright).

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