When We Were Young (Karen Kingsbury book)
It is the fifth novel in her Baxter Family Collection series, and the 28th novel overall featuring the Baxter Family.
Noah and Emily Carter have a storybook marriage, and their lives are followed by millions on Instagram. But behind the scenes, their marriage is anything but a fairy tale: Emily is tired of having every moment of their lives shared with the public, while Noah refuses to pull the plug, as he has turned their social media following into a six-figure income.
Ultimately Noah and Emily decide to end their marriage, with Noah moving out of the house, leaving Emily with the children (son Aiden, age 4, and daughter Olivia, age 2). Emily is afraid to tell her Bible study leader, Kari (Baxter) Taylor, while Noah says nothing to his fire chief, Landon Blake (husband of Ashley Baxter Blake). The book's plot starts on the evening before they will officially separate; Emily and the children will spend the night with Kari and have left Noah at home for the night while he packs, after returning home from a cemetery where he visited the grave of Emily's younger sister Clara (who was born with cerebral palsy).
During the night Noah has a series of dreams. Most of them are of happier times (his meeting Emily and his decision to forego an NFL career -- partly influenced by two serious concussions while in college, leaving him vulnerable to permanent damage or death if he had another one). But five dreams, outlined in a format similar to Dickens' A Christmas Carol but also resembling the legend of Rip Van Winkle (Noah has no memory of any intervening events, and blames it on the long-term effects of football-related concussions), showed Noah his family's future if he left them:
- The first dream (when Aiden is 7 and Olivia is 5) showed his children visiting his apartment. At this point Noah is shown to be generally absent from his children's lives outside of occasional visits.
- The second dream (Aiden is 10 and Olivia is 8) showed his son playing soccer. His daughter has begun to ignore him, while Emily is dating another man.
- The third dream (Aiden is 15 and Olivia is 13) showed the children as teenagers. They are generally disrespectful to him, and he seems Emily with a ring on her finger (she is either now married or engaged). Worse, Olivia now starts showing effects of Noah being absent; she has developed an eating disorder.
- The fourth dream (Aiden is 20 and Olivia is 18) shows Olivia graduating from high school. Though she received a diploma, she is now abusing drugs and dating a boy with a juvenile record. Aiden gives Noah an angry letter, blaming him for all their problems, and asking him to never contact them again.
- The fifth and final dream (Aiden is 23 and Olivia is 21) shows Aiden having graduated from college. He has now become a youth pastor at Clear Creek Community Church (where the Baxters, in the series, regularly worship) and has fully forgiven Noah. Emily and Bob have no interest in church and plan to move to Los Angeles after the first of the year. Noah asks to see Olivia, a reluctant Aiden takes him to a homeless camp under a freeway overpass; Olivia has become a hard-core drug addict. The two find her, dead from a drug overdose. It is too much for Noah to take: he asks God to either take him back (to the early years) or take his life.
After the last dream, Noah wakes up, realizing his family's future if he walked away. He hears God giving him a verse from the Bible and realizes that he has to save his marriage so that Olivia won't end up a dead drug addict. He drives to Kari's house, where the two agree to rebuild their marriage. At the end, Noah decides to end his social media accounts -- giving up the income in the process.
In a sub-plot, Ryan announces that he is taking a coaching job at the University of Arizona, but does so without consulting Kari and the family first. Though they agree to move, Ryan realizes that he should not have made the decision by himself, and resigns.
The main theme of the book is the danger of divorce. The scenes show the detrimental effects of Noah's and Emily's divorce on the children, especially Olivia's descent into drug addiction leading to her death.
A secondary theme is the danger of social media: though Noah has turned it into a profitable income, it negatively affects his family to the point of planning a divorce.
- Deuteronomy 30:19 -- "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses -- choose life -- so your children may live."