Nathan Bartlett’s journey continues to evolve in On the Kalalau Trail as he learns from past mistakes and falls into the trap of repeating a few. Now a senior in college, Nathan is still climbing to become one of the members of the Four Thousand Foot Club—those who have climbed the required number of peaks that scale four thousand feet. While on a hike, he meets Conroy Finnegan, a trail guide who has scaled some impressive mountains worldwide. Nathan falls more deeply than he wants for Conroy, who makes it clear from the very beginning he is a happy wanderer who doesn’t lay down roots for anything or anyone. Nathan tries to convince himself that he can handle such a friendship—one with benefits—but with no real closeness, however time will show him that is really a lie. As Nathan’s best friend prepares for marriage and they drift further apart, another family tragedy shocks Nathan to the core and leaves him wondering just how little he really knows about his family, his friends, and even himself.
On the Kalalau Trail, the second in the Trailblazer series by Robin Reardon, picks up with Nathan almost three years later as he is heading into his senior year of college. Familiar faces return in this novel, but it’s Nathan who has matured in many ways, yet who is still searching for somewhere to belong. I suppose if one had to they could call this a New Adult novel, since Nathan is twenty-one, but in many ways it feels more mature than that moniker offers. To say this is a romance would be to definitely limit what this story is really about and while there is some semblance of a romance, it’s not the real focus here. So how to describe a story that begs the question: do we really know those we live and surround ourselves with as intimately as we like to think we do?
This novel continues Nathan’s introspective journey of finding himself. When another loss leaves him floundering to forgive himself the guilt of not being there to prevent it, and also rocks him to the core when he realizes how little he really knew about those he loved, Nathan seizes on the idea of an idyllic trip to Hawaii. He hopes climbing the dangerous Kalalau trail there will provide a way to complete a spiritual journey that will illuminate his future and his past. What Nathan discovers is that he is ready to move beyond the empty life of dating and spending time with those who want to merely control him and move to a place where he can find a partner to share his life, much like his best friend El Speed has done. But there’s more to this novel than just Nathan finding himself.
Within this story there is a sense of Nathan being that “everyman” type of character who touches a core within each of us. It sheds light on those who have experienced loss, who have left a career or the classroom and are embarking on a new life that can seem limitless in its scope and it tells those who have lived on the sidelines waiting for life to happen that they must seize each moment as if it’s their last. Not only that, but this author has a little bit to say about what it means to be an ally—one who stands beside the LGBTQIA community claiming allegiance. I think many will find what Reardon has to say a bit chafing—but that’s a good thing. I feel she placed that moment in her novel where Nathan reveals what a true ally is to him in order to shake up those of us who are feeling complacent with our roles in society. I know it certainly gave me pause.
Once again, this author gives us a multi-layered story that I think will provoke a different reaction in everyone who reads it. While Nathan comes miles and miles from who he was in the first book, On Chocorua, there is still a great deal of learning and living for him to do. One thing is certain, however, it is a determined Nathan who ends this part of his journey and one that now knows he will settle for nothing less than a partner to spend his love on and to invest his future in. I look forward to seeing that happen for our intrepid hero