Tent for Seven – Book Review

Tent for Seven by Marty Ohlhaut and Grace Ly

I just finished reading a book called “Tent for Seven” by Marty Ohlhaut and his daughter, Grace Ly.  I’ll just spoil the rest of the review for you and tell you to buy it – the book is engaging, funny, poignant, and a great adventure.  Yes, things get sticky (and downright dangerous!), but somehow – with creativity, familial love, common sense, and a few miracles – the family survives probably one of the worst camping vacations ever where everyone lives to tell the tale.  And it’s a true story!

I love Grace's signature line in "Tent for Seven" by Marty Ohlhaut and Grace Ly
I love Grace’s signature line!

Plot Synopsis

Marty Ohlhaut has been looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Canadian Rockies with his family – a very practical wife and five children almost as crazy and adventurous as himself.  Things start out just fine as the family flies across the continent, picks up their rental van with only a few complications, and heads across the border into Canada (exploding Cheetos bags don’t count as catastrophes).

Full campgrounds, sleepless nights, dead camera batteries, and the possibility of contaminated drinking water plague the family through the first few days of their trip, but real trouble looms when the mom nearly dies falling out a window (I’ll leave it up to you to find out why she did such a thing, but her comment later of “you would have done the same thing” to her husband is correct – he would have done exactly the same thing, only probably with more spectacular results).  Meanwhile, the main highway washes out between the hospital and all of the family’s belongings back at the campground.  That’s just the beginning of their troubles – after all, grizzlies seem to pop up everywhere they go hiking.  And Marty is deathly terrified of grizzlies.

Threaded through the Canadian Rockies camping trip are memories from Marty’s first trip out west, complete with multiple bear encounters, at least one hospital visit (not related to the bears), and an ancient van that might or might not make it out west, let alone back to Ohio.

The Ohlhaut family before leaving home
The Ohlhaut family before leaving home

My Thoughts

How such a complicated and depressing story can be hysterically funny, I have no idea.  But somehow, Marty and Grace have not only crafted a story that is a page-turner but also one that will keep you smiling, if not giggling, from time to time.

I compare the writing style to the Rani Adventures by Ron Snell (It’s a Jungle Out There, Life is a Jungle, and Jungle Calls), which were childhood favorites after a friend randomly left the middle book on the seat of my dad’s car, thinking that we’d enjoy it.  (We did!)  It’s almost like Rani grew up, married a nurse, had five kids, and set out on a camping trip.

I loved all of the strangers who helped at times.  There’s no question in anyone’s mind that a miracle or two (or three, or four, or…) happens.  Some are called out, like the doctors who mysteriously show up with the right supplies at the right second to save the mom’s life.  Others are left for the reader to find for themselves (you can’t have such a bad rainstorm that the highway and railroad track wash out, yet your tent – right next to the worst damage, and with open windows – is bone-dry inside).

One other thing that stood out to me was the sheer quality of the writing and editing.  There were descriptions of the mountains – but they were tasteful, vivid, and not at all clunky.  There was backstory – but only what was necessary, and presented in such a way as to keep the story moving.  There also was an amazing lack of typos.  For a writer, that makes a very sweet reading experience.

Marty and his son on Athabasca Glacier
Marty and his son on Athabasca Glacier

Family Sensitivity (if you’re sensitive, like me)

I wouldn’t hand this book to anyone younger than a teen.  The reasons are simple: There is fairly frequent swearing (nothing more than you’d hear in the grocery store on a typical Friday, but swearing all the same) and several references to nudity (apparently, one of Marty’s teenage friends enjoyed streaking).  There are also some vivid descriptions of a couple of the injuries sustained along the way.  I didn’t find any of these to diminish my enjoyment of the book too much, but you’d have to be ok with this stuff to consider it “family-friendly.”

Marty and his family are Roman Catholic.  While it’s not a huge plot point, they do attend one service and they have a grid for the miracles they see happening around them.  I felt this was handled very well – even if you don’t adhere to the Catholic faith (I don’t, for example), you can still feel like the Ohlhaut family is an extension of your own – and you’re cheering them on.

Oh, one more thing.  The family doesn’t eat healthily on trips.  I really don’t care how many marshmallows and hot dogs they eat; I can’t say my Cheez-Its and Welch’s fruit snacks (that I only eat on the trail) are exactly healthy.  But if that’s important to you, there are just too many donut references for you.

Three of the kids at Angel Glacier in the Canadian Rockies
Three of the kids at Angel Glacier in the Canadian Rockies

Last Thoughts

In general, I simply enjoyed Tent for Seven.  It landed somewhere between a light read – it had me laughing more than once – and a heavy one, due to the weight of some of the accidents and Marty’s contemplations.  There’s also just a little poetic edge sprinkled through the pages as Marty thinks about the things that matter to him most.

It’s easy to recommend, so go and read it for yourself!

Tent for Seven (Hardcover)

Tent for Seven (Paperback)

Tent for Seven (eBook)

Disclaimer: I did not receive this in exchange for a review.  The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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