Shannon Huffman Polson s sobering yet sentimental memoir North of Hope is an extraordinary voyage of self discovery for the author On June 25, 2005, the writer s father and stepmother were declared dead after a bear attacked them in Alaska s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge A wave of grief and anger enveloped Polson Each day, she came home from work and stretched out on the couch, flattened like roadkill Polson eloquently illustrates the deep sorrow she felt her misery is palpable The memoirist envied cultures that have mourning traditions, those who wear black or who tear their clothing Why had our culture done away with all that she asked To spare the majority the discomfort that each of us must one day face And by doing so robbing every one of us of the space to grieve and neutering society s ability to mourn with the bereaved, our chance to appreciate life for knowing death Polson felt cheated It occurred to her that grief is something imposed, but that grieving is something that must be learned and, like anything of consequence, would reveal its realities slowly, over a lifetime But Polson does not have a lifetime she must grapple with her anguish somehow so she can make it through the shadowed valley and someday come out the other side One year after the horrible tragedy, Polson and two companions, one of whom is her adopted brother, set off on a daring expedition to trace their father and stepmother s route The Arctic was a place her dad loved, a magical place that worked its way under his skin and became a part of him Polson embarked on the expedition to find her father, to know him, and to glimpse some of the magic he and his wife had experienced on their trip Polson writes, Throughout humankind s long history, the idea of journey has carried with it expectations of adventure, of wildlife, of challenge, of conquest As the writer and those who accompany her undertake this arduous and dangerous Arctic journey, we go along with them Polson ably navigates her narrative with flashbacks and incredible descriptions of Alaska s wildlife Their adventure is both beautiful and perilous, especially when the group spots a pair of grizzlies The bears fill Polson with wonder, but they also repulse her as she thinks what one did to her family By turns sobering and inspirational, North of Hope is a meditation on grief and family and a daughter s love letter to her deceased father Polson s memoir is also a quiet yet powerful treatise on environmental changes and the effects of global warming and development in the Arctic If you enjoyed Cheryl Strayed s Wild, then you will love North of Hope Polson does for Alaska s Arctic what Strayed did for the Pacific Crest Trail Although Polson structures her account around the Requiem Mass, North of Hope is rousing, as these funeral hymns lead her to a river and help her find her way forward. North of Hope is an incredible, beautifully written journey of grief and healing The author, Shannon Huffman Polson, retells the tragic story of her father and stepmother s death in the Arctic, as well as her own personal journey into the Arctic a year later to complete the adventure they never got to finish.Interwoven between these two tales are stories from her childhood that help bring context to the situation and help draw the reader in with every chapter She writes so fluidly, so melodically, and each word is carefully chosen to convey the intended meaning.I connected with the author almost immediately as a musician, as a Christian, and as a daughter, especially, but also as a traveler myself I loved the vivid descriptions she gave of her surroundings while in the Arctic and I truly felt like I was there with her And I felt the depth of her pain in losing her parents, though I ve never experienced this myself.This book is powerful, beautiful, and somber It will cause you to reflect and ponder your own life as you read how the author navigated this tragedy.Here s a trailer for the book received a copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review. After Her Parents Are Killed In A Rare Grizzly Attack, The Author Is Forced Into A Wilderness Of Grief Turning To Loves She Learned From Her Father, Polson Explores The Perilous Terrain Of Grief Through Music, The Natural World, And Her Faith Her Travels Take Her From The Suburbs Of Seattle To The Concert Hall Where She Sings Mozart S Requiem, And Ultimately Into The Wilderness Of Alaska S Remote Arctic And Of Her Heart This Deeply Moving Narrative Is Shot Through With The Human Search For Meaning In The Face Of Tragedy Polson S Deep Appreciation For The Untamed And Remote Wilderness Of The Alaskan Arctic Moves Her Story Effortlessly Between Adventure, Natural History, And Sacred Pilgrimage, As Much An Internal Journey As A Literal One Readers Who Appreciate Music Or Adventure Narratives And The Natural World Or Who Are Looking For New Ways To Understand Loss Will Find Guidance, Solace, And A Companionable Voice In This Extraordinary Debut North of Hope tells Shannon Huffman Polson s eloquent story of her parent s horrific death and the year of her mourning Memoirs of grief endured are necessarily personal and particular and this book is no different However, well written memoirs of suffering, tragedy, and endurance provide tangible hand holds for the reader s own journey Much as the author uses Mozart s Requiem, the Jewish practice of Kaddish, and the Book of Common Prayer as a form or habit to orient the soul when grief has striped bare the imagination, the reader can use this author s emotional and spiritual self interrogation as a marker Another human has passed through this barren place I may not have to abandon all hope in order to endure In the dark wildness created by loss and suffering we humans become travelers without direction In our preoccupation with personal pain, on a journey so denominated by good and evil, joy and sorrow, life and death exists the necessary pilgrimage shared by all humans North of Hope is a reminder that In the midst of life we are in death and, despite our inability to see hope, real hope exists This modern memoir is unusual because the author talks of love Risking, as few modern authors do, the ultimate literary faux pax of sentimentality, Polson speaks of her love for her father and to a lesser extent her step mother Neither this love nor the objects are perfect, nor does the author idealize them Yet, Polson s unabashed admiration for her father as a role model and her desire to please him thicken the author and her parent s characters and make the grief at their loss poignant and palpable For me, this memoir provided a marker that resembled my own, a grief that wore mourning clothes nearly identical to those still in my closet, and cast a life line of hope that once grasped, I recognized. A journey of passionate grief and healing.When I first came across North of Hope, I had mixed feeling about reading it One part of me was very interested in learning the story of Polson and her parents, another part of me was not sure how much I would appreciate it I will now have to say that North of Hope is completely not what I was expecting I have been left with lingering memories of Polson s emotional and spiritual voyage, in her commemoration of her father and step mother Polson exhibits powerful and compelling strength during her journey to experience what her father and step mother encountered during their rafting trip in Alaska before their death It is as if she is being driven by a powerful force, unknown to her, in reclaiming those feelings and emotions her father and step mother experienced during their excursion.North of Hope is much than just a story of death and tragedy Instead Polson shares the memories of her childhood, her life before the divorce of her parents, her relationships with her family and her passion of nature and singing The reader gets a personal glimpse into her close relationship with her father, the gripping pain, confusion and her struggles to understand her feelings of grief after her loss North of Hope is a beautiful passionate journey in Polson s quest for spiritual awakening during her grief, loss and depression. This is a beautiful compelling book that I could not put down until I finished The book begins with the author s loss and her attempt to finish the Arctic trip her parent s did not The literary prose used to tell this story and the style she uses to take you through different times while moving the story forward is breathtaking This journey through grief will grab you and pull you into memories of personal loss However, most importantly it will remind you of the light that does one day return.Shannon Polson s connection with the outdoors and her description of it is a piece of art she has released into the world In this book about grief she leads us on the long sojourn of healing and how we all one day recover She succeeds in doing this through an appreciation of the physical beauty in the world around us that exists in nature and within music that we can all create Although, this path clearly was the correct one for the author you are left with the feeling that we are all free to find our own way through grief but are reminded that hope exists.I highly recommend this book and have to share one passage that transported me In this passage Shannon Polson is describing the never ending sunset of the Arctic summer Have you ever watched something so beautiful for so long that for just a minute you became a a part of it I watched until I was a part of that light, part of the land A part of creation and creator What shocked me was not my dissolution but the relief it brought It was like a quiet rising of water It was not erasure it was inclusion, a connection so complete it mingled molecules I was here, and I was part of the Arctic, and it was part of me. The plane fell from the clouds toward the dirt airstrip in the Inupait village of Kaktovik, Alaska I braced myself against the seat in front of me Windows aged and opague blurred the borders of ice and land, sea and sky 19 One year after her father and stepmother are killed by a grizzly bear in the remote wilderness of the Artic, Shannon Ploson retraces their unfinished river trip, looking to honor her father and stepmom and to find healing It s a journey that s difficult on many levels physically, emotionally, spiritually It s a journey that teaches her and this reader to see, to believe, and celebrate beauty Her writing draws you into the little known wilderness of Alaska, her own personal journey through grief, all woven together with her love of music She explores the wavering line between worlds listened to the water In it, I heard the sounds of rocks, low sounds of gurgles and streams and tricles And I heard voices Somewhere under the water, even in this shallow place, voices came out of and through the water I could not understand them, but they talked back and forth with excitment and joy I stopped still to listen what I was hearing was impossible 232 I rarely rate books with five stars but this book is an exception Her writing is eloquent and honest One that leaves you thinking once the final page is read. This is exactly my kind of novel adventure blended with memoir blended with historical and geographical research A little heavy in religion for me, but it s understandable given the situation I loved this book One issue i have with the book is the author continually pointing out that Sally is a larger woman it didn t matter or make any difference in those scenes I thought it was petty. Shannon Huffman Polson writes of the horrific death of her father and stepmother, who were mauled by a grizzly bear in the Alaska wilderness She writes to come to grips with the tragedy, to try to understand what cannot be understood This book might make a good read for someone who is going down the same road of grief and looks to nature for healing.For me, too many negatives impeded my enjoyment of the book The author s MFA degree is painfully evident, as her writing is weighted down with overly poetic imagery and elaborate phrasing The narrative is confusing, jumping as it does between the event, the author s trip through Alaska retracing her father s steps, and long asides on rehearsals for a performance of Mozart s Requiem in D Minor She never really gives a coherent account of the tragedy, instead breaking it up into vague mentions here and there.And, I must say I didn t find the author very good company In many cringe inducing scenes, she unwittingly reveals her arrogance and lack of compassion For example, on the Alaska trip, she and her two companions are literally up the creek without a paddle and she acknowledges they might be in serious trouble Yet when someone suggests asking another party for a paddle, Shannon is scornful of anyone who would ask for help Okay, well, I m not interested in being the one that does the asking, she says It s no wonder she has a volatile relationship with her adoptive brother, a dynamic whose cause Shannon doesn t fully own up to I felt shame for the girl I was, the cruelty I was told I had inflicted on Ned as a child, she says That s quite a cagey statement, I was told If you enjoy reading about the wilderness of Alaska, this could be the book for you I just didn t find it a satisfying account of a redemptive journey through grief. I met Shannon in person last winter at a book signing event for Seattle7Writers, and had the pleasure of listening to her speak about her book and read from it.Her candor and heart is felt while she reads from the book, and you can also feel it beating when you read A memoir that reads exceptionally like this is hard to find Her intellect, depth and understanding of the beauty of the human language show She is a smart person, and in writing this book as been able to move on The book is a journey of grief a side of grief that is deeper and is harder to put into words The way she goes about it retracing her father s steps in Alaska I find incredibly powerful It was a lesson anyone can learn from, in how to field sadness and happiness Her use of the English language in describing what she saw and felt, brought all the emotions together like poetry I loved how thoughtful her reading was No sugary coating, just thoughtful on the deepest level Shannon inspires me to keep pushing for my own memoir.Finally, her ability to move from present to past, then somewhere in the middle and back again kept me moving to the next page I learned a lot about people, the wild terrain in Alaska, and smiled when the smallest of things would annoy her during journey with grief I get it.