When fifteen-year-old Marlee Stanley joins her two sisters and the sons of their family friends on a secretive hike in the middle of the night, she is thrilled and nervous. Battling her conscience, she prays that the hike will go flawlessly and that they will return to the safety of their campsite before their parents wake. The start of the hike is beautiful and wonderfully memorable.
In a white flash so fast that Marlee can barely comprehend what has happened, an avalanche crashes into their path. Buried in packed snow, Marlee is forced to remember survival tips learned from her dad and her own research.
This group of friends, ages eleven through seventeen, is about to endure bigger challenges than many adults have experienced. Digging out of the packed snow is only the first of many challenges. Injuries, cold, hunger, fatigue, aggressive wildlife and tensions in the group make this a much bigger adventure than they ever imagined. As the kids strive to exhibit Christian values throughout the trials, they learn numerous life lessons. But they are nearly out of food, and their energy is waning quickly. How will they ever reach help?
Targeted Age Group:: 11-21
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After reading Jessica Khoury's YA novel Kalahari, I had the sudden thought, "They should write a book about a group of kids who survive an avalanche and have to hike to safety together." I quickly jotted down a few ideas (when the thought popped into my mind I was getting lunch for my kids), and that day during naptime I was able to make a rough outline and type the first several pages. I've always been drawn to survival stories, so the idea to challenge teens with a natural disaster came pretty easily.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted an interesting and realistic group of sisters hiking with another family's sons. I loosely based the sisters on a family of girls I knew growing up and based the boys on a mix of my guy friends. To add interest and conflict, the oldest girl and oldest guy are longstanding rivals who are now interested in each other but too proud to admit it. Since the plot is fairly serious, I knew the story needed comic relief, and the youngest sister takes care of that. The narrator is the middle girl who tends to be the mediator when tensions arise, and she and the younger boy have some meaningful conversations throughout the book that add necessary depth to the storyline.
As I felt the wall of snow crash into me and sweep me down the mountain like I was an autumn leaf, I would have given almost anything to take back my decision to go along with this reckless idea.
When I first heard the roar, followed by a deep rumble and rushing sound, all I could do was scream. My big sister Ellie grabbed my hand and frantically told me to grab our little sister, Lydie. I desperately reached back for her, but where was she? She had been hiking just behind me, but apparently had slowed. Sawyer and Marshall Miles bounded through the deep snow to us. Sawyer, almost eighteen, hollered, “AVALANCHE! Run to the side of the ridge!” Run to the side. I had read that tip in an article a few months ago, but thinking about it seemed much more possible than actually sprinting through shin-deep snow with a mammoth mass thundering toward me.
“Where’s Lydie?” Sawyer demanded.
“I don’t know!” I cried.
Ellie and Sawyer exchanged a distressed glance, then took off together, amazingly reaching Lydie just before the snow mass roared into us.
“Swim uphill!” Marshall shouted. Swim uphill. I remembered Dad telling a story of a guy he knew from his mountaineering job that got caught in an avalanche and “swam” to stay toward the surface of the snow. I hysterically began flailing my arms and legs, certainly no Olympic stroke, but perhaps it resembled swimming enough to stay above the surface of the crashing snow. While swimming, I craned my head in every direction, trying to catch a glimpse – what I prayed would not be my last glimpse – of my dear sisters and Sawyer, but all I saw was white. Ominous, smothering white. And then black.
Black. Stifling black. Moments before, the full moon bounced enough light off the pure white snow to read a map. Now I was smothered in darkness. Was this a nightmare? I tried to roll over in my sleeping bag, but no, I wasn’t in my sleeping bag. My whole body hurt. My face felt bruised. The memory flashed into mind, almost as quickly as the avalanche had hit us. Avalanche. Lydie! Ellie! The Miles boys! What was I doing here?? If I had followed my gut and refused to go on this hike, we would be safely asleep in our tent next to our parents’ tent. Our parents’ tent. Mom and Dad – oh, no! How would they cope with the news that their children had been in an avalanche? I had to get out. I would get out. God willing, I would do everything in my power to escape.
Panic surged through me. Instinctively, my body tried to thrash, tried desperately to get up, but I was stuck. The snow was packed so tightly that I could barely move my hands. Without thinking, I began to pray. At first, my plea was panicked, but gradually, I managed to calm down and really ask God for help.
Stay calm, I reminded myself again, and then mocked the thought of staying calm while drowning in snow. Stop that. Think, Marlee. Oh yeah, when buried in the snow, first determine which way is down, then dig toward the opposite direction. The snow was stiff, but not as stiff as I first thought, indicating to me that I must be near the surface. My left hand was near my face. After wiggling it for a few seconds I managed, with some difficulty, to get it to my mouth and I dug a small air pocket. Letting a drop of saliva onto my lip, I felt it fall down my left cheek. So gravity was left. Dig to the right. Slowly, I inched my hands to my right side and pushed snow away from my body. It took all of my strength to move the solid snow just a few inches. My breathing sped up again, partially due to fear and partially due to the workout of digging. Pausing to take a break, I wondered how long my pocket of air could provide enough oxygen. Then I heard my name. Or was that my imagination?
“Marlee!” It was definitely Marshall’s voice. I tried to scream back to him, but my voice deafeningly echoed directly back to me in my cave. I felt a surge of relief knowing at least Marshall and I were alive; I begged God that the others were, too.
Three more energy-draining scoops with my arms, and I felt my right fingertips emerge. I wiggled them and suddenly felt as free as a butterfly bursting from a cocoon.
“Marlee!” I heard him shout again.
A few more hurried, but slightly less frantic scoops, and I jerked my head out of the snow. “Marsh!” I hollered. He was about forty feet away and came running to me. He looked stunned and incredibly scared as he dug his gloved fingers into the snow around my head and grabbed my shoulders. He was breathing so hard that I thought he would give himself a headache.
“I thought I was the only one who made it,” his face crumpled, and he let out a sob.
Marshall’s emotions made me feel like crying, too. I mean, I’m a girl, so if I cry, it might not actually be a big deal. But even Marshall was crying! What had we just survived?! What was ahead of us? If we didn’t make it back to camp before sunrise, our parents would be worried sick. Where were the others? Marshall said he thought he was the only one who had survived, so that meant that Lydie, Ellie and Sawyer were still missing. By now, tears were slowly sliding down my cheeks, and my nose was running. Marshall’s head was bent low, but all at once, he lifted his head, looked at me, and began scooping snow from around my body. I was lying somewhat sideways, kind of parallel to the mountain.
“Can you unbuckle your pack?” Marshall asked me. With my right hand, I reached down and numbly unclipped my backpack’s waist belt, then the sternum strap.
“Okay, I’m unbuckled, but I don’t know that I can wriggle out of the shoulder straps. Moving in this snow is like swimming in a sea of cold peanut butter.”
Marshall had scooped most of my right side free, and feeling like a stiff hippo, I heaved and sort of rolled out of my snowy cocoon, my pack still loosely on my back. My rib cage expanded dramatically, no longer confined in the dense snow. I gulped several huge breaths, just now realizing that I had been forced to take shallow breaths while buried. Buried alive. The thought made me very thankful to be out of the snow, but also very worried about the others. Marshall dropped to his knees next to me and again grabbed my shoulders. I looked back into the spot where I had been, and to my amazement it was barely below the surface. At first, when I had felt like I would never get out, I would have figured I was twenty feet down, not five inches.
“You okay?” Marshall stammered. Honestly, I felt better than he appeared, and I was afraid he was having a panic attack – just what we needed.
“Uh,” I quickly thought, mentally searching for any stabbing pains, tested out my limbs, stood up and successfully took two steps, “I think so. What about you?”
“Oh Marlee, you’re bleeding!” Marshall exclaimed.
“Where? Are you okay?” I demanded, his anxiety making me more nervous.
“Your forehead,” he pointed, and I stretched my left hand up, noticing for the first time that my arm felt stiff after being packed under the snow, but with my glove on I couldn’t feel how severe the bleeding was.
“I don’t think I’m losing much blood, so if you’re okay, I say we start searching for the rest of the group,” I said, my voice sounding more confident than I felt.
I knew that avalanche victims have to get out ASAP, so I forced my emotions out of my mind. There wasn’t time to worry and wonder. We had to find Sawyer, Ellie and Lydie. Marshall was still visibly distraught. He looked like I felt. But right now, we had to act.
This time it was me putting my hands on Marshall’s shoulders. Suddenly feeling like a mother hen, I prayed that it would calm him enough to think clearly. “Marsh,” I began, “we just lived through an avalanche.” He nodded and his breathing began to regulate. “Right now,” I continued, “our job is to search for the other three.” His breathing began to increase. I kept my hands firmly on his shoulders. Marshall must have had an impressive growth spurt during the year, because last summer I was about four inches taller than he was. Now, standing face to face, we matched each other for height. I bet Marshall clears out their fridge weekly!
“Marshall, you and I are going to stay together, side by side, and we are going to find our siblings. You know more about rescue than I do,” I went on, thinking that delegating him a role would help him focus, “so tell me, where do you think they are?” When the words came out of my mouth, it sounded so devastating, as if they had hit, landed, and would remain until found. That’s what they call ‘search and recovery.’ I silently begged God this would be a search and rescue. I again swallowed my fear and maintained eye contact with him.
“Well,” he began matter-of-factly, “Sawyer and Ellie ran down the ridge as the avalanche hit. So I would say that we need to start searching about twenty feet lower than where you were buried.”
I nodded, and without a word, I repositioned and buckled my pack before I noticed Marshall’s was gone. “You lost your pack?” I quietly asked.
Marshall blankly nodded. His backpack had contained one of two first aid kits. The other was in Ellie’s. “Well at least we still have gorp,” I tried to lighten the mood, referring to the “good old raisins and peanuts” in my pack. My attempt at a joke was not appreciated, so I turned and we headed down the ridge, where he figured Sawyer and my sisters were. It had probably only been two minutes since I was dug out, but every minute under the snow made the situation more serious. Like, exponentially more serious.
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