If you have ever lived or been stationed near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, you know “the mountain.” It is Mount Rainier, the snowy volcano that towers at over 14,000 feet in elevation. It is the tallest mountain in the Cascades Range and on a clear day, its peak can be seen as far as Corvallis, Oregon or Vancouver, British Columbia.
In Sight of the Mountain centers heavily on Mount Rainier and is the focus of the main character, Anna.
We follow her life as a woman living in Seattle in the late 1800s, struggling to find happiness within the confines of societal expectations during this period. The book begins with the Great Seattle Fire. This was a real-life event that happened on June 6, 1889. A pot of glue was accidentally overturned in a carpentry shop, causing a fire that quickly spread down the block of wood-constructed buildings. The first lasted all day and into the night, destroying 25 city blocks and countless businesses.
In the book, Anna’s grandfather owns a bookstore in the area. She rushes to find him and is quickly rushed out by a handsome doctor. She is urged to go home, that this was no place for a woman. It is the same line she is given throughout the novel and what drives her to try new things.
Anna does not want to be ordinary or to marry someone wealthy and stay home. She wants adventure and experiences; she wants to do more than be a housewife and mother (which was expected of her).
And most importantly, she wants to climb to the summit of Mount Rainier.
No woman has accomplished this in the book, but Anna is determined to try. She writes to the leader of a climbing group to request a slot on their next climb, and he says she is welcome to join them with the fee, correct gear, and proper training. Despite the protests of her grandfather and brother, she secretly trains and prepares to accomplish this feat.
With a train ticket to Yelm to get started on the trek, Anna is prepared to face glaciers, animals, and hazardous climbing conditions. She could be a pioneer for women who wish to mountaineer…but she could lose her disapproving family and prospective suitors in the process.
Ultimately, Anna must choose a path to her own happiness. Even if it is found at thousands of feet of elevation.
I initially felt drawn to In Sight of the Mountain for its setting. I have been stationed and currently live in this area of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve always loved the climate and area, especially the “snowy mountain” as my child used to refer to it. There is something about seeing that massive, snow-capped mountain that never grows old.
I was also drawn to the book because it was written by a military spouse and PNW native, Jamie McGillen. We love supporting military spouses! And fortunately, Jamie was able to sit down with me to talk about the book.
Jamie McGillen grew up in the area and even after marrying her active-duty husband, they continue to return here when the military allows it. She found her inspiration for Anna and this book while attending a poetry festival at the Washington State History Museum.
I was entering the festival, held in the basement of the museum, and I saw a large portrait of Fay Fuller, the first woman to summit Mount Rainier. I became interested in her story, and the inspiration for the book grew from there.
I asked Jamie if she has always wanted to write historical fiction, and she said yes.
It is a more complicated process for writing a book, with the back and forth of fact-checking and ensuring that details are accurate. But she shares my same opinion of this genre: it allows a reader to learn about history while seeing it from a personal perspective, even though the character is fictional.
Jamie currently lives in the Pacific Northwest and teaches at a local community college. And she is writing more! Her second book in this series, In Light of the Summit, released on January 15, 2021, and the third and final book is in the works. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Jamie, in our book club and on the bookshelves.
For more information about her and her writing, please visit her website. We thank her again for speaking to us and giving us more insight into her debut novel. To learn more about Fay Fuller and the real-life women who climbed Mount Rainier, click here!