Sixteen-year-old Sarah Carter is on the beach when she discovers a bottle washed up from the ocean. It holds some pages from a book and the legible word "Sarah." The woman who is with Sarah forces the teen to toss the bottle away since it might carry some unknown disease. This brief prologue scene is in the present and the remainder of the novel flashes back to a year earlier.
In short chapters, readers are introduced to six different people who met as college students about 10 years previously. As a way to earn some extra money, they sold a thin, self-published hardcover titled HAPPILY EVER AFTER for businessman John Watson. The book retailed for $14.00, and Watson gave them seven dollars for each copy sold. Of these six individuals, only David Payne, now a pediatric surgeon, read the volume and made a faith commitment. Each year he makes a missions trip and pointedly invites his five friends to come on the journey, yet each time they give some excuse. This year Dr. Payne plans to go to the island of Kwajalein and help the people of this remote Pacific island. After emailing an invitation to his five friends, he drives home only to be killed by an SUV that hits his vehicle.
All five friends decide to attend David's funeral. As they meet, they each carry their own baggage from the past. Karyn Hall lives in Manhattan with her daughter Sarah and works on the soap opera "A Thousand Tomorrows" as Lorinda Loving. While selling the books, Karyn met and fell in love with Kevin Carter, who eventually became the Chief Marketing Officer at the Old Time Candy Company in Atlanta, Georgia. When Sarah was a child, the couple divorced because Karyn wanted to move to New York City to revive her acting career, even though Kevin's business was in Atlanta. Lisa Melvin cares for her elderly parents and runs a small children's daycare in Seattle. Susan Brantley Dodson had married an older wealthy man and moved to Houston, Texas. After her husband's death, Susan is immersed in a wealthy Texas lifestyle. Finally, Mark Morris owns and operates several car dealerships in the Cocoa Beach, Florida area. Impressions count for Mark, so instead of flying to the funeral, he makes a point of driving a gold Mercedes Benz.
At the funeral, they're pressured into going on the missions trip and build a school on the island of Kwajalein in David's memory. Unfortunately, the flight is forced to land on a different Pacific island, so John Watson charters a boat to take them to their destination. But when a sudden storm wrecks the boat, David's five friends --- the only survivors --- are stranded on an uninhabited island, where they struggle to create a fire and find fresh water. They take refuge in a cave and discover a strange spot where they see a vision of their past life. Through their experiences on this island, each person discovers new truths about his or her life.
Bestselling author Angela Hunt has crafted a masterpiece with this contemporary novel. Readers plunge into six different lives with concern for the characters' well-being and are led to a unique spot of understanding for their own spiritual journey. After reaching the final page, readers will want to return to the story in order to gain additional insight into each character's life.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on July 4, 2006