Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson

North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey by Shannon Huffman Polson

When given the opportunity to read North of Hope, my interest was piqued because I do enjoy memoirs and though the subject seemed tragic, the setting of the Pacific Northwest (my home) and Alaska were draws for me.

In her memoir, Polson is thrown into the abyss of grief when her parents are killed by a horrible bear attack while traveling along an Arctic river. Her story goes back and forth from childhood memories, her early adulthood, the logical and necessary arrangements that go with burying family members, and singing Mozart's Requiem with a Seattle choir shortly after their deaths. What ties everything together is Polson's trip down the Hulahula River, retracing the trek her father and stepmother were making the year before when they died. She travels with her adopted brother, with whom she has a strained relationship, and his female rafting friend who is a stranger to Polson. She seems to want closure. She wants answers. Does she find them on the river?

There were things I did like and things that were not so great about this book. Polson spends a lot of time going into detail describing the landscape or talking about flowers that she sees. Her vocabulary is great and I can imagine what she's relating but I felt like it dragged on a little more than I would have preferred. I wanted to get into the story, not dwell on plants and location. She also switches frequently between the past of her childhood, her situation shortly after the tragedy, and her time on the river. It does create a nice arc and each piece does fit together into the eventual picture but while going through the book it was like being pulled forcibly from one place to another when I just wanted to spend more time in one spot for awhile.

Something I wish the author wrote more about was the relationship with her brother Ned on the river. When he has the eventual blow-up it seemed to come from no where. Really, for the entire river trip he seemed like a shadow figure, not really having much character presence in the story. Sally, was portrayed like more of a friend and companion than Ned, but other than having people to paddle, Polson's story seems very solitary, almost lonely.

I have never experienced the kind of life shattering grief Polson has gone through. Where she finds her salve and how she deals with such tragedy is enlightening and inspiring. Set in beautiful landscape, this memoir has something to offer for many readers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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

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