Every human being has a personal story, but not every story should be a book.
Such might be the case regarding "North of Hope" by Shannon Huffman Polson (published by Zondervan), or at least not in the heavily chronicled format in which it has gone to print.
First, let me state "North of Hope" is an intensely personal story, and I admire Polson for revealing to her readers what she has about the most difficult aspects of her personal journey. It's a story of a woman who, as a girl, developed a deep attachment to her father, especially after her parents divorced. Making her dad happy was a (if not the) driving force in her life. So when her father and stepmother were tragically killed by a rogue bear in the remote wilderness of Alaska, Polson's life was upended.
As a means of working through her grief and attempting to right her life after such a tragedy, Polson decided to traverse the Alaskan wilderness by rafting down a river to the place where her father and stepmother were killed. The telling of the story weaves back and forth between Polson first learning of the tragedy and life afterward, and her wilderness journey.
That's where the reader can get bogged down.
Not in the back and forth of the story-telling, but in the great amount of detail Polson puts into telling her story. In painting thorough word pictures for her readers, Polson delves too deeply into the more mundane setting of the story. You'll learn more about Alaska than you need to know, as well as about the details of Polson's trip and earlier life. Providing a full context for a whole story is important, but this book simply buries the reader in too much detail.
As a result, some of the connection the reader could have with the writer is lost. Had Polson kept her story-telling cropped more closely to her personal experience, rather than all the detail surrounding her experience, the reader would have likely gained a greater insight about the author and a deeper sharing of her journey. The personal story is there, it's just smothered with too much unnecessary information.
Some readers will connect with this book regardless of how much detail they will have to wade through to encounter the personal aspects of the author's life, but I'm afraid many will become weary with the amount of effort it will take to finish this volume.
With respect to Polson, who's personal story is a remarkable one, "North of Hope" is weighted down with too much minutia to be broadly recommended.
I received this book free from Handlebar as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
"North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey" is a memoir written by Shannon Huffman Polson reliving the author's grief and recovery after her parents having been killed by a bear in the Arctic while camping. After the killing of her parents, Shannon, an Alaskan, decides to follow the route her parents took during their last trip in the Arctic. She gets to know her parents better and settle her grief.
Though this is an amazing story, and really, how could she not have written a book about such unusual circumstances; it isn't all that good. She goes into overkill with the descriptions. She also goes off on off-the-wall analogies. Shannon, the main character, is hard to get to know. Rather than getting to know her personally, she presents herself to the reader in a melodramatic fashion that is a bit unnerving. It's not poorly written; but it is distracting. The writing style makes it hard to care about the characters. I would recommend giving this book a try, for the storyline alone, however, it just wasn't my brand of book. C+
Shannon Polson really lays it on the line and puts it all out there! Her feelings, despair, and trying to understand or make sense of what has happened. Many times we try to make sense of some senseless act that really and truly we will never understand. I think in the end it all about accepting that sometimes we just have no power to stop it and have to eventually when the time is right start the healing process. This is a sad book and not for everyone. I found it really too sad to finish and while many might love it I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. It was just not what I wanted to read at this time. Right now there is just too much sadness in the news to handle reading about it also. So I will put this book up on my bookshelf and get it out again sometime and see how I like it.
Shannon Huffman Polson has bravely woven together the dialogue she struggled/struggles with in her mind and heart after her father and stepmother were killed by an Alaskan grizzly bear. Her book, a memoir, winds effortlessly between her current search for understanding and release, the ties she feels through her choir participation in Mozart's Requiem in memory of her loved ones, and memories of her past.
A grieving heart may find comfort in this book; relate to the soul-searching, the questioning, and the desire to make a pilgrimage in honor of a lost loved one, seeking answers that may never come (and finding peace with that). My sadness at the end of this book is found in the deep desired longing to find the peace that God offers; I'm left wondering what kind of peace Shannon found. Was it just a peace to move on with life or was it an everlasting peace?
I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I've lost many loved ones in my life; through age, disease, and tragic situations. I can't imagine that death of our loved ones could be easy for anyone. Knowing there is true hope in life eternal found through Jesus Christ, our Creator and Saviour, gives my heart a peace beyond understanding. It isn't found in what we do in the here and now. (Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast.") My disappointment in this book isn't found in Shannon's honest reflection of what she has gone through.. It is found in the most significant missing story: a lost soul won't read anywhere in this book about how to find the peace that only comes through salvation and a true faith found in Jesus' redemptive work on the cross.
Shannon's life fell apart in 2005. First, she and her long time boyfriend, the man with whom she was smitten, broke up. A few days later, she received the phone call. Rafting the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he dad and step-mom were attacked and killed by a grizzly. (Before and since their death, there has been no known humans killed by bears in the Refuge.)
A year later, Shannon was on that same river, taking the same trip, with her adopted brother and woman who was his work colleague.
The trip would be a sacred journey, a pilgrimage. She would come to realize that the reason for the trip was to face the beast of grief within herself. She was also waiting to hear from God, not sure of what he would say or how He would say it.
She interweaves her family story and her experience with singing into her account of the rafting trip. Her father had been drafted for the Vietnam war but his law degree allowed him to be posted to Alaska. After his military commitment was completed, he stayed in Alaska, practicing law in Anchorage. Shannon grew up in Alaska but ended up working in Seattle after her college experience.
As Shannon flies to the drop off point, she thinks, "It would be easier not to believe in God. It would be easier not to have to make sense of this. Maybe this place was too far north for prayer, too far north for hope." (61)
There are two aspects of this book that will appeal to readers. First is Shannon's journey through grief. She writes with candor as she comes to grips with the untimely and tragic death of her father and step-mother.
The second aspect is the adventure of Alaska. Readers will learn about migrating birds and animals like the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Shannon also includes in her narrative other journeys she has made into the Alaska wilderness, such as hiking Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains.
This is a moving narrative of grief, searching for meaning in the midst of tragedy, and finding the comforting presence of God.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.