When four college friends graduated from the University of Northwest Oregon, their lives stretched before them, full of promise and vows to stay connected. But life has a way of derailing well-laid plans.
Now they haven't spoken in twenty-five years. But against all odds, three of them have found themselves back in the same place--at their alma mater, wondering how they got there. When they discover their fourth friend, Hope, has died, Jenna, Ireland, and Vicky decide to embark on a wilderness adventure to honor her memory--and for secret reasons of their own. Jenna wants to show her husband that she's more than a helpless, overweight, middle-aged empty nester. Ireland wants to get back to the nature she loves and hide from the charges being pressed against her. And Vicky wants to show she cares for something besides her ministry--and put off the disaster waiting at home for as long as possible.
They never bargained for the dangers they face in an unforgiving wilderness. Now they'll have to work together if they hope to make it home alive. While the three women fight to survive the elements, their toughest battles may be with themselves.
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The scents of wood, essential oils, and accomplishment float over me as I enter my office. I take a moment to savor the view from my third-story vantage point. Old-growth fir trees shade my window from the harsh sun and give me a glimpse of the private college campus. They stand like guardians, keeping me safe in my oasis, protected from the hurt and chaos of people.
I ease down onto the ball that serves as my desk chair as it strengthens my core. My woven-hemp bag is packed for my trip, and I only have a couple hours today to work on the article I'm writing about the changes in the environmental movement. The picture at the corner of my desk defines so many of these shifts in my own lifetime. The image of me in my twenties, my hair hanging in dreads, my face decorated with piercings. In those days, saving the planet was more than my passion; it consumed me, surrounded me, insulated me.
For many of my students, this is still the truth of their existence, but I've grown older. My finger glides over the small bump below my lip where a metal hoop used to hang. It's been years since I chopped off the dreads, replacing them with short curls that tumble over my head.
Today's movement is no less valuable. It's intellectual. It's in my writings, my academic talks, and my teachings.
Pulling in a deep breath, I lay my palms over my diaphragm, feeling the expansion of my lungs. The air whistles out of my pursed lips as my shoulders drop and the tension in my neck begins to rest, my body and mind sinking into tranquility.
The calm is extinguished with a hard knock at the door. It opens without my invitation, and Dr. Doogan steps into my space. I jump to my feet, the ball crashing into a potted aloe behind me. He's about the last person I would have expected to come to my office. Any meetings we've had in the past have taken place in his domain.
I pull the gauzy scarf from my head and run my fingers through my curls.
His wiry eyebrows press together, and he grips his elbows.
"Professor, I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting you. Please, have a seat." I step around my desk and offer him the only real chair in the office, a secondhand recliner that barely fits in the corner.
He eyes the chair, then shakes his head. "This won't take long. I know you have a train to catch, but it is important."
Something in his tone pushes me back until my legs bump into my desk and I sit on its smooth, cold surface. "Is there a problem?"
He nods. "Unfortunately, there is. McCormick Wilson came to see me yesterday."
A muscle above my right eye twitches. Mac, as the other students call him, has been a waste of this institution's time from the first class he attended. His heart has never been in the cause. When he completed his graduation requirements, I was glad to see him go. Even if it meant sending him into the world to make money off people who legitimately cared about the future of the planet. "What did he want?"
"He claims his entrance to the master's program was denied for unsavory reasons."
"The boy is a fraud. I call that unsavory, don't you?"
"Those aren't the reasons he's claiming." Dr. Doogan sucks his lower lip into his mouth, chewing it, then turns to my sacred window. "He says he was denied based on his refusal to have a physical relationship with you."
I lean forward as I absorb the punch. "No." There are no other words. I feel Mac's attack as if he were in the room with me now. As if he's actually reached out and assaulted me. The pain and shock leap from the shadows and pull me down.
"Don't say anything else. I'm not here to get your statement. In fact, I'd rather you keep your side of the story to yourself for the time being. If we play our cards right, maybe this will blow over. Mr. Wilson could see the error of his ways and let it go. The last thing we need to do is antagonize him."
Tingles run down the length of my arms. I shake out my hands, trying to restore control. "Okay. But what is he even doing here? He graduated."
"He's talking about filing a lawsuit to force us into admitting him to the program." Dr. Doogan huffs out a breath. "And he'll want restitution for ... suffering."
Fire spreads over my skin. His suffering? What a joke. A very unfunny joke.
"We can't let him do this. What if other students get the idea that they can bully the university into whatever they want? Grades, classes — anything? How am I supposed to teach when Mac is trying to destroy my reputation?"
"That's the thing. You won't be. At least not for the time being. Ireland, I've talked to the university's attorneys. They strongly suggested putting you on leave. Call it sabbatical if it feels better."
"Where exactly am I supposed to go?"
"You have your speaking engagement at the University of Northwest Oregon. You can still do that. Maybe enjoy some time at your alma mater."
My heart sinks further. If only it were that easy. Going back. It's not the same. There's hurt in the loss. Why that loss should hurt any more than the other hundreds, I don't know.
"Just don't mention this situation to anyone. I mean it. Anyone. We don't want the media getting hold of this any sooner than necessary." He laces his fingers, tucking them beneath his chin as his narrowed eyes drill into me. "Your job is on the line here."
"My job?" I step back, building an invisible wall between us. "What do I care about this place anyway? This may be just the catalyst I need to go somewhere else and start over. There's nothing here for me." I can't calm the waver in my voice.
He scoops his fingers through thin gray hair. "Ireland, you know better than that. You're getting too old to run when life doesn't go your way. Remember, I've seen your résumé. This is the longest you've stayed in one spot. Don't throw away all you've built because you're scared."
His words hang in the air like cloying humidity. I fight the urge to brush at my arm in an attempt to escape their grip.
I yank my duffle bag from the floor and fling the strap over my shoulder. Grabbing my phone, computer, and charger, I take off. I don't even bother to wait for Dr. Doogan to go. I don't lock my door, set my voicemail to "out of the office," or turn off the salt lamp.
I just leave.
* * *
A kid screams in the seat in front of me. Great. I take the train for the peace. The clack, clack, clack of the rails. To see the scenery outside the window, from waterfalls to open fields. I am not here to listen to someone's child screech about a spilled snack.
Some kind of artificial neon gummy thing falls between the seats and lands on the top of my hemp bag. Seriously? No wonder he's having a meltdown. What do people expect when they fill their kids with chemicals? He's probably a walking GMO billboard. That's right. The next generation of Americans, built with food "grown" in laboratories.
With the back of my hand I brush the junk away, then reach in and find my phone. Tucking the earbuds in tight, I pump up the volume of the Eagles and lie back, my head swaying with the rhythm of the music and the train.
Outside, we pass fields dotted with sagebrush. As we approach the Cascades, the memory of the sweet, pure Northwest air expands my chest. On the other side of these mountains is a life I walked away from twenty-five years ago.
What a child I was. Oh yes. Back then I thought all our problems could be solved with recycling. And faith in God. What a joke. The Earth is ready to crumble. That beauty outside the window could almost make me forget the problems we're really facing.
McCormick Wilson has chosen to destroy my life. Well, the joke is on him. My life exploded a long time ago. I killed my own happiness. All that's left is the burnt and broken pieces. He can't ruin something that's already obliterated.
I rip the headphones out of my ears. They may block the noise, but they let my thoughts loose.
Scrolling through email on my smartphone, I notice another from Professor Jensen. I'm due to arrive in six hours, and she's supposed to meet me at the train station. That will give me an hour to get ready for the first class of the day.
Thank you again for coming to UNWO to speak with my environmental change classes. I noticed your name on the Emery House invitations list. You didn't tell me you were an Emery girl. I lived there from 1998–2001. I assume you'll be at the reunion on Saturday. It's such a shame about the closure.
Sequoia Jensen Professor of Global Environmental Change – Ecology
Emery House ... closing? My stomach sours. I may have been foolish back then, but it was a good time, probably the happiest time I'll have in this life. Closing my eyes, I see Hope, Vicky, and Jenna. My eyes snap open. I can't go there. Not now. It's futile. I can't bring the past back any more than I can restore the ozone layer.
Using my phone, I open an email account reserved for junk and type Emery into the search. Ten emails come up. The first five are pleas for alum to write the university. Then comes the final news.
My skin burns. Just like the money-hungry university to wipe out a house that doesn't give them the financial rewards of their sky-high hunk of metal dorms.
I open the last email. It's the invitation. It's such a coincidence. I have to consider it. I'm already on my way home, or whatever you want to call Carrington, Oregon. There's no way I would have made the trip for the reunion. And in all reality, I don't have the time to make it now. My train leaves again on Saturday afternoon.
But I have nowhere else to go. No family to visit. Dr. Doogan made it clear he'd prefer I didn't come back any time soon. This Mac kid could destroy the only good thing left in my life. He could crush my career.
The train jerks, sending my cell to the floor and my chia water pouring onto my lap. I grab the bottle and mop up the mess as we come to a stop.
In the middle of nowhere.
For two hours I sit in my assigned seat while the temperature climbs, transforming the train car into an oven. That GMO kid started wailing within minutes, but finally wore himself out and went to sleep. I think we're about to die a global-warming kind of death when they finally give the okay, letting us go outside into the fresh air.
Like a herd of enslaved sheep, we follow the line of people down the aisle and out the door. The air here is dry and hot, but it's not toxic like inside. Large rocks roll under my feet as I make my way as far as I can from the train while still ensuring that I won't miss the call to reboard.
My nerves remain unsettled since the Emery email. I have to get away for a moment. Take time to refocus. To find center. Balance.
Breathing clean air into my lungs through my nose, I count. One ... Two ... Three ... Four. Then slowly blow out through my rounded lips. The muscles in my neck and shoulders yawn as I roll my head in circles. My tension eases a fraction under the fingers of the penetrating sun.
If the universe is on my side, Mac will back down, and I'll soon return to my own little college, teaching a few young and enthusiastic students how to do what I hoped to do. Change the world. And I'll be comfortable again. Safe in the nest of the life I've built for myself.
Shaking my hands out, I try to push those negative thoughts away. They have no place in my world. Neither does that girl I used to think I was. Emery House. It's Emery's fault.
Up ahead of me, a man and woman walk hand in hand. Her multicolored skirt brushes the ground, and she seems unaware that she's picking up twigs and fallen leaves with her hem. They stop. He turns her toward him, revealing the child bound to her chest, curly blond ringlets spilling over his eyes, his fist slurped into his mouth. The man takes her face in his hands, scooping his fingers into her dreadlocked hair. And I look away.
We must have looked so much like that family.
Why can't the past stay in the past?
Yesterday, I was fine. Now my peace is cracked and memories are flowing in through the holes.
Pain starts to claw at the left side of my head. Another migraine. I reach into my bag and pull out the brown dropper bottle. Unscrewing the cap, I inhale the scents of peppermint, eucalyptus, and valerian root from my self-made mixture. I release drops onto my finger tip. Rubbing the oils into my temples, I feel myself returning.
A fall chill rides on the gentle breeze. I turn toward the train. Back to my cave. It may be restrictive, but it's also safe.
Back at my seat, I pull my copy of Silent Spring from my bag. Without the squawking kid to distract me, I'm able to go deep into the words, making scribbles in my notebook. My issue becomes clear: I need to get free from the clutter of society. Maybe a retreat of some sort. A true sabbatical. I need to be in nature, and let it become a part of me.
* * *
When the train finally rumbles into the station, I'm worn from traveling and my skin is sticky with dried perspiration. I need a long shower and a bed. The day is gone, and the classes I was to speak to, they're over. It fits. I'm sure my career is over too. And my job is all I had left.
To my surprise, Dr. Jensen is standing on the sidewalk outside my window. She's alone, the only figure in the dim light of a flickering safety lamp.
I heft my bag onto my shoulder and stand. Age cries from my joints, especially my hips. It tells me I'm too old to start over again. Too tired to form another new life in another new place with all new people.
Cold air floats over my skin as I step onto the platform. The sensation is both shocking and luxurious.
Jensen approaches me. She looks like her picture — young, her skin still taut and unblemished. Brown spiky hair is tipped with bleached ends and her deep blue eyes shine bright behind round glasses. The expression on her face, the way she bites at her bottom lip, gives away her anxiety.
"Dr. Jayne. I'm glad you finally made it."
"I'm so sorry I missed the classes. It seems my trip has been all for naught." I brush at my wrinkled linen pants. At one time I chained myself to an old-growth tree not too far from here. I stayed there along with a dwindling crowd until the tear gas showed up. I don't think I felt as filthy then as I do at this moment.
She tugs at a hanging crystal earring. "I was wondering if you'd consider staying on through Monday." This woman gets right to business. "The university will pay for your hotel and travel. My students were so disappointed today. It's not often we have someone of your experience and expertise come to visit. And an alum even. What do you think?"
I think that she'll think very differently if the news of my impending scandal hits social media before I'm able to impart whatever knowledge I may have to her students.
My stomach growls. Roasted pumpkin seeds only last so long.
She smiles, like my discomfort may give her an edge. "We have a wonderful vegan restaurant near campus. Have you heard of Almost Normals?" Without waiting for my reply, she turns and starts walking toward a blue Prius, one of the few cars in the parking lot.
She's got me. I'm starved. "Let's talk through the details as we eat," I say.
I tag along like a hungry stray. The truth in the phrase is so real, so tangible. I should skip dinner and march down the street to the tattoo parlor. Hungry Stray. I can see it stamped across my flesh. Identification. It's freeing, the thought. The real truth of who I am out there for everyone to see. No more hiding, trying to be someone I can't. No more putting on a show as if I'm really to be listened to. It's just me. The hungry stray.
Whether it's the hunger or the familiarity of this town, somehow I'm so vulnerable the breeze on my skin stings. I'm raw and ragged, and I don't know if I can go another step without collapsing.
My chin snaps up. How long have I been standing in front of the open hatch of her car, my bag pulling down my right shoulder? "I'm sorry. The trip drained me."
"We'll get you dinner, then I'll take you to the hotel. I think you'll like it. It's right down the street from Emery House."
I nod. She's taking me home. The only home my life can claim. And though I didn't think I'd ever come back, I realize this is the one place for me right now. This is where I can find myself again. Where I can ask forgiveness for my life ...
Before it's completely wiped away.
Excerpted from "If We Make It Home"
Copyright © 2017 Christina Suzann Nelson.
Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If We Make It Home is a book by award-winning new author Christina Suzann Nelson. Many of my friends were reading the book and loving it. So I “gifted” myself the book. Nelson holds readers with her descriptions of the three main characters’ adventures, told from each of their points of view. She also does a great job incorporating secondary characters (through the eyes of the main characters) as part of the story. Occasionally I wanted to see what the secondary characters were doing behind the scenes, but we do learn a bit of that at the end of the story.If you like wilderness adventure stories…. If you like stories about friendship…. If you like stories that reflect on how God moves in our lives and encourage you to reflect on God’s presence in your own life, you’ll enjoy reading If We Make It Home.
This book grabbed me from the beginning. It starts with a chapter each, about three different women, who roomed together in college, and now 25 years later, they are getting ready to go to the Emery House reunion, although all a bit reluctantly. Their lives are very dissimilar, and yet, not so unalike. Each woman is trying to escape her own inner struggles - empty nest, marriage problems, career difficulties... They head off to their college reunion, in hopes of maybe finding themselves and the glue that kept them together - Hope. But Hope has died, and life is now looking even more hopeless. They haven't kept in touch these past 25 years like they should have, and their comradeship is not what it used to be. Each anxious for the weekend to be over, but not sure what they will do next. Individually, they each decide to take a survival trip to the mountains, not knowing the others will be going too. Can they get along long enough to survive? And yet, have enough "alone" time to figure out their lives? Not too far in, the story took a totally random twist! I was seriously not expecting that! I could hardly put the book down in anticipation of finding out what was going to happen next. As I got deeper in, the twists kept happening. This is truly a book of survival, not just physical, but spiritual, a survival of the soul. These woman have to learn not only to depend on each other, but to depend on God, and figure out what they are really living for. I thought it was inspirational! There is just a bit of confusion at times, because the book is written in first person, with each character telling it from her point of view, so it is important to really pay attention to who is speaking at the time. That's probably the only draw back. I was blessed with a copy of this book courtesy of Kregel Publication. I was not asked or required to review positive and all opinions are my very own.
Another new author for me, and one I am completely happy to have found! When sitting down to read this intriguing sounding book, I wasn't quite sure what to expect,especially with this being a debut author. But, what I found when opening the pages was a book that completely swept me away, held me captive through out and completely stole all my emotions, from happiness to tears and back again. The story really blew me away and left me reflecting on my life, and my journeys. The women within the pages of this book are chiseled in heart stealing way, and they all quickly became my friends for life. The author created them and made them real to life, as their reunion story plays out among the pages. They each had issues in their life, and spent time having to find themselves, the real them, just as we have to in real life sometimes. Their struggles and trials really hit home with me on more than one occasion. If you are looking for a light hearted, fast paced read full of laughter and fun, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book that is completely and utterly gripping, that will make you feel like you are watching a movie on the big screen, that will leave you thinking about all that you have at hand, and what God can do for you if you just let Him, then this is the book just for you. A definite 4 star worthy book from a new author that I can't wait to see what's in story for her with more work. If they are like this incredibly stunning debut, then I know I will be a fan for life! *I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications and was under no obligation to post a review, positive or negative.*
If We Make It Home is quite a stark title for a novel that really grabs you and will not let you go. Not only from the harrowing adventure these friends find themselves in the midst of, but also all of the crazy, heavy emotions that comes with each of their stories. Four college friends all embark on their life’s adventure and 25 years later come back for an impromptu reunion when they find out their college sorority house is set to close its doors for good. What three don’t know is that Hope, one of the four (the glue that held them together) has passed away. Not only reeling from that shocking news, each of the others is going through life crises’ of their own. The narrative is told by each of the surviving friends: Ireland, Victoria, and Jenna. All are heartbreaking and life changing in significant ways and I found myself even relating to a few of their issues. None of them have felt their lives have turned out the way they had hoped and dreamed, and so each of them have different reasons, points to prove, as one by one they all set out on a survival hike/journey for about a week in the Oregon wilderness. Wow. This was really pretty amazing storytelling, and even though I had to put the book down a few times to collect myself and/or to get over a shocking revelation- I could not keep it put down for long. This would be great on the big screen. I received a copy of this book for free. I was not required to post a positive review and all the views and opinions are my own.
This is the author’s debut read, and how powerful it is; just don’t let your guard down. Three women reluctantly go to their college dorm that is closing, twenty-five years after they left, and each agrees they should have been there for one another. Secrets are revealed, and lives will never be the same, as they go on a little hiking adventure, never expecting all that is going to happen. I was page turning, things happened so quickly, and you will never expect what is about to happen, and just when you think things will get better, nope! I loved how this tale was woven and you walked in each of these women’s shoes, each on their own journey, apart and yet together. A powerful read that you don’t want to miss, I loved it! I received this book through Kregel Blogger Tours, and was not required to give a positive review.
I love finding a new novel from a debut author that is simply so great I feel the need to tell everyone. If We Make It Home by Christina Suzann Nelson is one such novel. It is a novel that conveys friendship, loyalty, faith and hope as its central themes. The novel is about sorority sisters from Emery House, that find themselves strangely all returning back to their house based on an invitation that the house is about to be closed. Each of them has a very different reason for attending. For Ireland, a tree-hugger, vegan, activist, she has been offered a speaking position at the local college and is strongly advised to do so by her present Professor who is trying to deal with a potential lawsuit involving Ireland and a former student. For Jenna, a middle aged, empty nester who can't seem to find the meaning and purpose to life now that her three kids have left home. She is overweight, but happily married and struggles with self-esteem issues even though her husband Mark supports her in everything she wants to do. She feels like her only purpose as a mom raising her kids is over and doesn't know what to do. For Victoria, a successful wife and mother who heads up one of the leading ministries devoted to marriage and family, suddenly learns that her husband is having an affair with her assistant and leaves town without a note, hoping they might get worried enough to find her. She knows once word gets out about her marriage, her career is over. The one thing that didn't plan on, was the unexpected and unannounced news that their sorority sister Hope, has passed away from breast cancer. They learn from Hope's daughter that she always wanted to take a survival trip into the Oregon Cascades with trail guide Glenda who operates this trips, but was too ill to ever go. The three sisters, who have not spoken in 25 years, decide to take a trip in honor of Hope. However, these three are the worst prepared to undertake this journey. Jenna is completely out of shape and her only real fitness challenge has been walking around her home as of late, Ireland is a vegan who is probably the only one who might make the trek considering they have to live off the land, and Victoria, a beauty queen who can't live without looking perfect has bought just about everything they would need but hasn't figured out how she plans to carry it all. The group is in store for more than anyone could ever bargain for and I will leave this review at that, because this is where the novel gets going and never lets up until the very last page . I received If We Make It Home by Christina Suzann Nelson compliments of Kregel Publications. This is such a great novel because as a reader, I found myself a part of this group having to endure everything that happens to them. I could smell the pine trees and struggle with the rocky terrain they have to hike in. I found myself relating quite a bit to Jenna's character because I am facing that empty nest soon as my youngest will be leaving home very soon. I could understand the struggle of wanting to give up and dealing with friends you thought you knew in college but lost touch with afterwards and now find themselves struggling to truly be themselves as they once were. I will be adding Christina Suzann Nelson to my watch list, because if this is her debut novel, I can't wait to see what comes next. 5 out of 5 solid stars for this novel!!!