Christina Suzann Nelson’s debut novel, If We Make It Home: A Novel of Faith and Survival in the Oregon Wilderness, was named “debut of the month and one of the Best Books of 2017 by Library Journal” according to Amazon. I can see why.
A university building used for student housing is about to be torn down, and those who lived there are invited for a reunion. Four former roommates find their way back to Carrington, Oregon. They used to be close but they haven’t spoken in 25 years.
Hope James stayed in the area, running a coffee shop. She was considered the quiet glue that kept them connected while they were students.
Ireland Jayne used to be the one that called them to prayer. But she has walked away from her faith and turned her concerns towards environmentalism and activism. She is a professor, but her job is presently hanging by a thread. She has not seen her son in years.
Jenna Savage has been a stay-at-home mom, but her triplets just fled the nest. She had cried and prayed and tried so long to become pregnant, and then loved her three so much, that she doesn’t know what to do with herself now that they’re gone. She has a penchant for food and not for exercise.
Vickie Cambridge has a worldwide ministry and TV show for women, but she has neglected her own family.
Somehow the latter three end up on a survival trip in the Cascades with an older woman named Glenda, described by one as a “mountain woman.” Jenna wants the challenge. Ireland and Vicky want the escape.
None of them has any experience, and the trip is rougher than expected. (When Glenda vetoes Vicky’s butane curling iron, Vicky quips, “This must be what persecuted missionary wives feel like.”)
But then a series of disasters tests them beyond their limits and brings out the best and worst in each one.
The chapters alternate between the different women’s points of view, giving us a window into their inner struggles and their differing views of their situations and each other.
One thing this book taught me: I do not ever want to go on a survivalist trip into any wilderness or forest of any kind. Even without the disasters.
But besides that, I thought the women’s stories and journeys were so well told. I ached with each of them in their troubles and rooted for them in their triumphs.
I loved Christina’s phrasing:
The sun beats down on us and makes me feel like a loaf of over-kneaded bread in the oven.
Vicky snivels on the other side of me. I’m in an emotional sandwich. And it’s making me swirl with unease. The lightning looks like a safer companion.
Saving nature and surviving it are two very different things. We are not saviors in the wilderness. We are intruders.
The next thing she says is a muffle of grunts. Great, we’ve lost the perky one. We’re doomed.
“How do you think the pioneers got their soap?” “They bought it before they left.”
Maybe this is God’s provision. It never looks like I imagine.
I also like that the story doesn’t end with their getting out of the woods, but continues on with the aftermath of everything that happened.
All in all, a great book. I look forward to reading more by Christina.