April 05


Travel Partners by Sarah Dooley

We played the alphabet game. We played tic-tac-toe on the backs of gas receipts. We played make-believe about the houses along the road. We read to each other, handed snacks back and forth, and sang with the radio. We argued over who had it first and who took who’s spot and who started it. We pushed and shoved and laughed and tickled and cried and tattled and we wrote it all down when we got home. We loved to travel.

Sometimes the trip was because we were aiming for a better opportunity. Sometimes, when those dreams fell through, we were on our way back home. Sometimes it was a church trip, a family visit, or a rare day with extra gas money when we just wanted to see what was around the next curve. Sometimes we didn’t know where we were going, or why. We just loved to travel.

Later, it was college. First the eldest sister went. We would visit on the weekends. We would marvel she was old enough to be in college, as if we were real grown-ups. When we two remaining sisters headed home, our legs were longer than they once were, but there was still space left over in the back seat. We listened to our walkmans. We looked out the windows. We loved to travel.

Then it was the middle kid. Off she went to an apartment in town. We shuttled boxes to her place. I stayed with her on weekends. On the way home Sunday nights, I watched the yellow line slip by. I stretched my feet across the empty seat. It was quiet. It was peaceful. I loved to travel.

And then, one day, it was me behind the wheel. The back seat was empty, the car quiet.

It was different.

When I wrote Ashes to Asheville, a novel about two sisters on a road trip, I had to work for a lot of things. Because it was set slightly historically, I had to work to get the dates and details right. I had to work to arrange the proper landmarks along the road. I had to check that the weather made sense for the season and that I’d remembered to feed the sisters and let them stop for a bathroom at some point in the last few chapters. I had to remind myself, time and again, that they had a dog.

But I never had to work for the car conversation scenes. Those, I knew by heart, from all the way back.

These days, our roads are different, each of us sisters on a different path. Our journeys are longer and more complex. Sometimes they’re figurative. Sometimes they’re still literal, on the way to visit each other. But no matter where we travel, we know there’s always someone at the other end of the road, or the email, or the phone. There is always someone coming from the same direction.


Sarah Dooley is the author of Ashes to Asheville (Putnam; April 2017). She has lived in an assortment of small West Virginia towns, each of which she grew to love. Winner of the 2012 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, she has written three previous novels for middle-grade readers, including Free Verse which was a Junior Library Guild selection and nominated as an ALA BFYR Notable and Best Book.  Sarah is a former special education teacher who now provides treatment to children with autism. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia, where she inadvertently collects cats.