After author Shannon Huffman Polson’s parents were killed by a wild grizzly bear in Alaska’s Arctic, her quest for healing is recounted with heartbreaking candor in North of Hope.
Undergirded by her faith, Polson’s expedition takes her through her through the wilds of her own grief as well as God’s beautiful, yet wild and untamed creation - ultimately arriving at a place of unshaken hope. She travels from the suburbs of Seattle to the concert hall, performing Mozart’s Requiem with the Seattle Symphony, to the wilderness of Alaska - where she retraces their final days along an Arctic river.
This beautifully written book is for anyone who has experienced grief and is looking for new ways to understand overwhelming loss. Listeners will find empathy and understanding through Polson’s journey. North of Hope is also for those who love the outdoors and find solace and healing in nature, as they experience Alaska’s wild Arctic through the author’s travels
Where does North of Hope rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
I really enjoyed North of Hope! The book chronicles Shannon's journey through grief after her father and stepmother are killed by a bear while they are camping on the Arctic Hulahula River, and part of her healing journey is a trip down that same river.
Having spent many months myself on rivers in the Arctic, I really appreciated the descriptions of landscape, the villages, the weather, the wildlife, and even the quality of the light. Her story brought back many memories of my time spent on northern rivers. Shannon's clear style will bring images to life for people who haven't been to the Arctic.
While Shannon tells her story through the lens of her religious faith, the book is not evangelical or preachy. As a respectful agnostic myself, I found the book appealingly spiritual, but not so religious that it would not appeal to a wide range of readers, religious or not.
What was one of the most memorable moments of North of Hope?
The story travels back and forth in time, always coming back to the river trip as Shannon paddles the river. I love how the story flows forward along the trip down the river, but flashes back to her memories and experiences in the past: of Shannon's own life experiences, about her memories and thoughts about her dad and stepmother, and about the natural history of the area.
Shannon is clearly an accomplished athlete, scholar, and adventurer. She mentions completing Ironman Triathlons, climbing Mt. McKinley, being a helicopter pilot in the army, skydiving, finishing an MBA, and being a serious musician (piano and voice). Rather than derailing the story by spending too much time on each of these things, she picks the appropriate details of these facets and times of her life that pull the story forward. She focuses on parts of her life that taught her important lessons; for example, learning to surrender control while learning to connect in formations while skydiving. Looking back on her experiences through the lens of learning to live with pain of her father's death, Shannon fits the pieces of her life back together in a way that makes sense to her, and that as a listener, I applauded as I listened.
What about Shannon Huffman Polson’s performance did you like?
I love how Shannon's initial flailing around to try and get through her grief makes sense to her in retrospect. Her imagery of the braided Hulahula River as her tangled path through grief is a beautiful one. Each of us grieves in a different way when we lose important people in our lives, but her story is an inspiring and brave one.
Listening to her read her own story was perfect, I thought. So personal, and very meaningful.
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