Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.
Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”—which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.
The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.
And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Emma: Now NOW
JUNE 28, MIDDAY
Emma wasn’t a fan of strong words. So she mentally censored the word she was actually thinking and instead told her older sister, Abby, “I seriously dislike you.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I despise you,” Abby said, shoving her way through some brambles and letting the branches snap back in Emma’s face.
That stung, and not just the branches. Abby’s word choice was definitely better. “Well, I—” Emma began.
“Ugh, just stop already!” their younger sister Ollie said. “Aren’t things bad enough right now?”
Abby glared back at her. “And whose fault is that?”
Ollie’s face turned red beneath her sunburn, and for a second Emma thought her sister was going to start screaming. Either that or crying, and even though she was only nine, Ollie almost never cried. But Ollie just took a deep breath, then looked down at her feet, silent.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Abby flicked her red ponytail over her shoulder and spun on one booted heel. A small cloud of dust rose behind her as she marched down the dirt trail.
“Keep moving, girls,” Dana Sawyer, their camp counselor, ordered from behind them. “Or do I have to add another mile to this hike?”
“You can try,” Ollie muttered.
“What was that, Ollie?” Dana asked.
“It’d better be nothing,” Dana said, striding past them. They’d been hiking all morning, but she didn’t look tired at all. Her hair was still neatly braided, her outfit dry and clean, like she’d been floating over the trail instead of trudging down it. Maybe being a camp counselor gave a person superpowers.
Emma forced herself to follow, even though her feet were killing her and her backpack was getting heavier with every step she took. She would have thought that after spending the past two weeks at Camp Unplugged, she’d have been better at this. They’d been roughing it in the middle of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness—affectionately known as “the Frank”—where hikes were a daily occurrence. Unlike showers.
Emma dreamed of showers, of nice hot water and plenty of soap. She could actually feel herself getting dirtier out here, the grime of the trail coating her skin and working its way into her pores. Although “trail” was a strong word for this overgrown deer track.
Emma slapped at a bug bite, then stumbled over a root, almost falling. She couldn’t believe she’d ever thought coming to this camp would be a good idea. She had hoped that out here, out of range of Dustin and his friends, Abby would revert back to the person she’d been: the sister who was also Emma’s best friend. But even here, Abby wanted nothing to do with her. It was like their two-year age difference had suddenly become an impossible gulf.
Impossible. Emma changed it to “challenging” and felt a little better.
Ollie sighed loudly. “You are so, so slow.”
“Like it even matters,” Emma said.
“Abby’s going to get to the top first.”
“I don’t care. It’s not a competition.”
“Good thing,” Ollie muttered, “or you’d be losing big-time.”
“Hey, you’re behind me—ahh!”
Something exploded out of the underbrush.
Emma jumped back, crashing into Ollie, and both of them fell in a tangle of limbs and too-heavy backpacks as a flock of birds circled and then took off.
“Terrifying,” Ollie said from the ground, her tone as dry as the trees around them.
“I thought it might be a grizzly.” Emma’s heart was still pounding too hard. She’d read about grizzlies in the Camp Unplugged pamphlet. They were supposed to be rare. But rare wasn’t the same as nonexistent.
“Get offa me.” Ollie pushed at Emma.
Emma shifted but couldn’t get her feet under her.
“Hey, Emma! Ollie!” Dana hiked back through the trees toward them. “Are you girls napping here?”
“I’m trapped,” Ollie said.
“I’m trying to get up.” Emma floundered under the weight of her pack like a turtle on its shell. She could feel Dana’s scorn growing larger and more incredulous. Her face burning, Emma finally unclipped her backpack and pulled her arms free, then staggered to her feet. Her legs shook with exhaustion, but she turned and offered Ollie a hand anyhow.
Ollie ignored it, practically springing upright despite her own giant backpack. Clearly its weight wasn’t slowing her down any.
“Can’t we find a better trail?” Emma asked, wiping a hand across her sweaty forehead.
Dana narrowed her eyes. “This isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park. This is a punishment, remember?”
Emma, Ollie, and Abby were on this all-day disciplinary hike thanks to a... misunderstanding. Emma knew that wasn’t the right word, not by a long shot. But she wasn’t ready to face the truth of what she and her sisters had done. Not yet.
“Better hustle if you want to make it back to camp in time for dinner.” Dana turned and bounded up the trail, overtaking Abby in seconds, then disappearing through the crowded trees.
“She moves so fast,” Emma whispered.
“Don’t be impressed. She made us carry everything, remember?” Ollie said.
Dana had made the three sisters divide up all the supplies for their hike while she carried only a small day pack. Ollie had thrown a fit about being forced to carry their tent. “It’s completely unnecessary,” she’d argued, but in the end, none of them had a choice. Carrying everything was part of their punishment.
And really, they deserved it.
“I hate her.” Ollie scowled.
“‘Hate’ is a strong word,” Emma said immediately.
“Oh, shut up, Emma,” Ollie said, pushing past her.
Emma sighed and hoisted her pack up, staggering a little. She clipped it back into place against her sweaty T-shirt, then started up the trail after her sisters.
“Wait up, Ollie,” she called. Ollie didn’t even turn around, though, and in moments she pulled ahead so far that she disappeared from view.
The trees closed in on Emma. She was alone.
The brush to her left rattled, and her heart jolted before she noticed the squirrels chasing each other. Another rustle nearby, another rattle. More birds. The wind. Some hopefully small animal. Emma squeezed the straps of her bag, her mind conjuring images of grizzly bears lurking behind every tree and mountain lions crouching on every rock.
The trail climbed upward, and Emma climbed with it, her legs screaming. It got so steep that she had to put her hands out to keep her balance, practically crawling on all fours. Dust clogged her nose and filled her mouth. Emma scrambled over some loose rocks, grabbing at tree roots and branches to help speed her up over the hill, fear giving her extra energy until forever later she burst out from the trees and into a small clearing.
Abby and Ollie stood just in front of her, looking out.
“What are you—” Emma’s voice died.
They were on a ledge overlooking a valley full of endless mountains, all so green it was almost painful. Sunlight glinted off a river splashing far below, granite slabs towering on either side of it. There were no signs of human life, no evidence at all of Camp Unplugged. It was like everything man-made had been swallowed by the wild.
It was breathtakingly beautiful, and also a little terrifying. Emma glanced around the clearing. “Where’s Dana Sawyer?” she asked, dropping her pack.
“Checking on trail conditions up ahead,” Abby said. “Apparently it’s worse than she thought it would be.”
“No kidding.” Emma picked a few leaves out of her long brown hair.
“She said she’d just be a minute, but that was several minutes ago.” Abby slung her own pack off and dropped it heavily to the ground, then sat on it.
“Maybe she’s been eaten by a bear?” Ollie said hopefully.
“Wouldn’t that be nice.” Abby pulled a granola bar from the pocket of her cargo shorts and tore open the wrapper.
Emma’s stomach growled. She’d eaten her own granola bar earlier on the hike. The old Abby would have offered her some of hers, but this mean-girl version just ate the whole thing. “What?” Abby said, looking up. “Were you hungry?”
“No,” Emma lied.
“I guess you don’t want my extra granola bar, then.”
“You don’t have an extra,” Emma said.
“Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.” Abby gave her that smug, self-centered expression that made Emma want to smack her. Then her expression shifted, changing into something thoughtful. “You know,” she said slowly, “we could just turn around here.”
“Without Dana?” Emma said.
“She’d be super mad.”
“She’s super mad anyhow. What’s it matter?” Abby brushed granola crumbs off her shirt. “Besides, if it’s taking her this long to scout out the trail ahead, you know that means it’s in terrible shape.”
Emma pictured the overgrown trail they’d been on, and tried imagining something worse. Dana had told them that funding for the Forest Service had been steadily decreasing, which was why so many trails had been left to fade back into the wilderness. Only the main trails were maintained. The ones they usually hiked for camp.
Emma glanced at the trees on the other side of the clearing. They looked like a tangled wall of green, no hint of trail anywhere. It would be miserable, slogging through all that.
“We’ve been hiking all morning,” Abby said. “I vote we call this far enough and head back to camp now.”
“But we’re not at the top yet,” Ollie said.
“This is close enough. Right?” Abby glanced at Emma. “I know you don’t want to keep going up.”
Emma scowled. She didn’t, but her sister didn’t need to rub that in her face. “I don’t mind.”
Abby stood and slung her pack on her back. “Whatever. I’m heading back.” She started down the mountain.
“Wait!” Emma called. “You can’t do that.”
“Watch me.” She vanished into the tree line.
Emma hunched her shoulders. She knew they shouldn’t leave without Dana. You weren’t supposed to separate when you were in the wilderness. It was camp rule number one.
But if she didn’t follow, then Abby would be the one alone. Emma hesitated, then hoisted her pack. “We’d better catch her,” she told Ollie.
“I guess so.” Ollie sighed. “We always do whatever Abby wants.”
Emma flinched. “It’s not like that.”
“If you say so.” Ollie shook her head. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”
Emma tightened the strap across her collarbone and didn’t answer. She was supposed to be on Ollie’s side. Team Youngers. But...
But she missed the days when she didn’t have to pick sides at all.
It was much easier to go fast on the way down, and she and Ollie caught up with Abby almost immediately. The three of them crashed their way briskly through the foliage, practically running. It was hard to really judge how much time passed, there in the shadow of all those trees, but Emma was sure they’d be back at camp in no time. She tried not to picture Dana waiting there for them.
Abby stopped so abruptly that Emma almost ran into her. “I think we made a wrong turn somewhere,” Abby said slowly. “This doesn’t look right.”
“What?” Emma said, her voice sharp with the edge of panic.
“Shh, don’t get all stressed,” Abby said. “I’m thinking.”
“Thinking what? We didn’t turn.”
“Calm down, Emma,” Abby said.
“I am calm!”
“Whatever.” Abby took off her backpack and rifled through the front pocket, pulling out a battered map. She unfolded it, turning it this way and that.
“This is going to take forever,” Ollie complained.
“Shh, I’m still thinking.”
“Why don’t we just keep going?” Ollie said.
“Because this isn’t the trail,” Abby said.
Now that she was looking, really looking, Emma couldn’t see even the hint of a trail beneath her feet. It was all tangled underbrush and fallen trees. Her heart sped up, thumping painfully, and she kept her lips pressed together to hold back her fear.
“It’s still downhill,” Ollie said. “That’s gotta be right.”
“Dana said if you go a little off course in the wilderness, it adds up quickly.” Abby tapped the map, then folded it and stuffed it in her cargo shorts pocket. “But yeah, let’s keep going.”
They walked slower this time, Abby stopping to consult the map every few minutes as a thick gray blanket of cloud swept in overhead, covering the sun and transforming the day into something cold and ominous. It was impossible to see more than a few feet, the world swallowed in trees, and Emma’s ears roared with the pounding of her blood as minutes ticked away into hours.
The ground began to climb again, even though it should have leveled out by now, and Abby checked her map for the hundredth useless time.
Emma knew it wouldn’t matter. They were lost. And even though “lost” was a very strong word too, she couldn’t think of a softer equivalent.
Not this time.