Summary and book reviews of Crossing the River by Carol Smith

Crossing the River

Seven Stories That Saved My Life, A Memoir

by Carol Smith

Crossing the River by Carol Smith X
Crossing the River by Carol Smith
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  • Published:
    May 2021, 272 pages

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Book Summary

A powerful exploration of grief following the death of the author's son that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. Helen MacDonald found solace in training a wild goshawk. Cheryl Strayed found comfort in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. For Carol Smith, a Pulitzer Prize–nominated journalist struggling with the sudden death of her seven-year-old son Christopher, the way to cross the river of sorrow was through work.

In Crossing the River, Smith recounts how she faced down her crippling loss through reporting a series of profiles of people coping with their own intense challenges, whether a freak accident, a debilitating injury, or a terrifying diagnosis. Smith deftly mixes the stories of these individuals and their families with her own account of how they helped her heal. General John Shalikashvili, once the most powerful member of the American military, taught Carol how to face fear with discipline and endurance. Seth, a young boy with a rare and incurable illness, shed light on the totality of her son's experiences, and in turn helps readers see that the value of a life is not measured in days.

This is a beautiful and profoundly moving book, an unforgettable journey through grief, and a valuable, illuminating read for anyone coping with loss.

PROLOGUE

I did not go to my son Christopher's school the day the nurse came to speak. Instead, I lay fetal-like on his bed, my face pressed to his sheets. The trace scents of crayons and Band-Aids, mud and baseball leather, kept me breathing. I squeezed my eyes shut. Images clicked by like a reel in his View-Master:

Christopher, riding a therapy horse, showing off his "tricks," his arms sticking straight out, his head thrown back, laughing. Christopher, hiding rocks and shells under his bed, the found treasures of a seven-year-old.

Christopher, nestled next to me on the bed as we read books together in sign language.

"Again, story," he would sign, tapping the fingertips of one hand into the palm of the other, then drawing his hands apart like he was pulling taffy. I'd laugh, knowing this was a tactic to avoid the dreaded bedtime, and turn back to the beginning.

We'd spied this bed together early one Sunday morning as we wandered the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena, California, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What story reported on by the author had the most impact for you and why?
  2. Which profile, if any, did you relate to most and why?
  3. Could you have covered the stories the author did? How did this book make you feel?
  4. How would you describe the author's personal journey throughout the book?
  5. "Crossing the river" is a metaphor that illustrates the experience of navigating grief; how would you describe the other side of that "river"?
  6. Many people feel a guilt over surviving when a loved one dies. How can we deal with that feeling? Why is it easier for some than others?
  7. What do you think friends or family who are supporting a loved one through a loss can learn from this book?
  8. When has someone else's story helped you come to terms with ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This book is certainly heavy and can be difficult to read, but a journey into these lives is a beautiful one (Amber H). Crossing the River is a sober, hopeful reminder that we're not all as separate as we sometimes think. What we've been through, somebody else has been through (Rory A). Smith's memoir, a deeply personal journey of recovery from grief, is an exceptionally lyrical and beautifully written work of literature that invites the reader to follow her through intimate revelations leading her to a place of acceptance, forgiveness, healing and hope (Laurin B)...continued

Full Review Members Only (662 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Star Tribune
There's a lot of pain here, and a lot of guilt, which is rarely far behind grief. But there's also, to borrow the title of a Tracy Kidder book, strength in what remains. And hope, without which the rest would be academic.

Booklist
This difficult yet hopeful reading journey will appeal to memoir fans and those interested in medical nonfiction.

Kirkus Reviews
[Smith's] job at the Post-Intelligencer ended with the paper's demise as a print publication, but the stories she collected from that time inform this intimate and humane narrative that should offer solace for readers who have experienced similar circumstances. An uplifting group of moving stories.

Author Blurb Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
There is no rule book for how to grieve, so we are left to navigate our own way through it, hopeful that there are compasses in the world to point us in the right direction. Crossing the River is one such compass. An unflinching look at Carol Smith's grief after the loss of her young son, it illuminates how sometimes going to the very places we want to hide from can show us the way.

Author Blurb Salamishah Tillet, author of In Search of the Color Purple
Crossing the River grapples with an unbearable loss, one that no parent, or reader for that matter, ever wants to confront. Carol Smith dares us to enter this world of grief with her and by doing so gives us a vulnerable and brave story of resilience, hope, and healing that can only be found in communion with others.

Reader Reviews

Robin B. (Olmsted Falls, OH)

Crossing the River
I really enjoyed the book and appreciated the author's exploration and experience of the loss of a loved one and the journey of recovery through the embrace of others and their own journeys. The book may be a help for others in their own healing and ...   Read More
Sherrie R. (Fort Worth, TX)

Crossing the River by Carol Smith
This is a beautifully written memoir by Carol Smith who is heartbroken by the death of her young son Christopher and how she was able to overcome her grief. Six months after losing her son, she returns to the newsroom and works on the Medical desk. ...   Read More
Kathleen K. (York, ME)

Inspiration Abounds
Smith's debut is a powerful and unflinching look at loss, grieving, and finding life afterwards. It is not for the emotionally faint of heart; not only did Smith lose a young child but her subjects include a double amputee, burn victims, fellow ...   Read More
Amber H. (Asheville, NC)

Beautiful Memoir
I absolutely loved this memoir! As Carol Smith navigates the grief of her young son's death, she reflects on the stories of people throughout her life. These stories help her to see a way to balance holding onto her grief while navigating towards ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Grief Memoirs

Grief Memoir Book Covers Carol Smith's Crossing the River recounts the death of her young son, Christopher, in combination with stories of other people who have experienced loss. In an interview with Hippocampus Magazine, Smith recalls memoirs about grief that have been influential for her. Below are some of the books she mentions, along with other significant memoirs of grief and loss.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed tells the story of the author's 1,100-mile journey hiking from the Mojave Desert to Washington State, a trip taken to deal with the grief of her mother's death. The book follows the obstacles that Strayed faced along the way as well as how the time on the trail helped her heal.

H Is for Hawk is another ...

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