Beauty and Tragedy in ‘Salt In My Soul’


This post originally ran on The Zebra Pit, my health and wellness blog, on June of 2019. I was given a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review and have included my amazon links, which means I will earn from any purchases made when you use my link to click-through. This allows me to earn from my writing while providing a service to my readers, helping me to meet my operating expenses. However, this cost is built in and does not raise the price of the book. Thank you.

Salt in My Soul’ by Mallory Smith really took me by surprise. It isn’t just the story of a brief, but beautiful life wrapped in journal style writing, it’s a literary pleasure one can sip like their favored tea, savoring the sweet aroma of each sentence. It’s beauty doesn’t make it any less tragic or relatable. It makes it a much more enjoyable and universal read that anyone could easily enjoy. The world lost a great writer the day Mallory Smith took her last breath. Luckily, she left behind this treasure for us to enjoy and learn from, along with many great environmental works during her freelance writing career.

There are many life lessons in Smith’s words, made wise beyond her years by chronic illness and the knowledge that her lifespan would be shortened dramatically by Cystic Fibrosis. Being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3 and developing one of the deadliest lung infections a person with CF could have as a young teen, Smith knew she probably wasn’t long for this world. She did everything she could to make her young life count and this journal is part of the legacy she leaves behind.

In her journal, she is sometimes at odds with herself; the dreams and desires of youth colliding with her illness in unpredictable ways as she makes her way through her life at Beverly Hills High School, later at Stanford and finally in her all too brief career as an environmental writer.

During her high school years, she writes often about how she’s not ready for it to be over, how she feels like she could stay forever:

I think I’m really afraid of change and the future and I hold onto the past. Every time something happens, I feel the need to write about it. I always want to have photos and I’m hugely afraid that Facebook could crash and all of my pictures could be lost. I don’t ever want to forget anything and it scares me that things from as recent as freshman and sophomore years and sometimes even junior year are starting to blur in my memory.

Mallory Smith, ‘Salt in My Soul,’ Pg 20
Image with overlay text. Blue ocean background. The text says "I woke up from the broncoscopy in a disoriented and feverish sepsis. Four nurses held me down on the bed as my entire body convulsed violently and erraticlly, while my fever quickly climbed from 103 to 104, then to 105, up to 106..." ~Mallory Smith, 'Salt in My Soul'

How at odds with the natural picture of youthfulness we all conceive, this high school senior desperate to hold on to the beautiful things of which she is apart. How uncharacteristic for teens to even think of fading memories or lost memorabilia. What shows through is her desire to grasp life and hold onto the good things and to show the world that life one snapshot at a time.

Despite the strict life of treatments and regimens Smith had to follow from a very young age, she was also a girl like any other. Her mother was occasionally in cahoots when it came to cute boys, such as this entry during her pre-college Stanford visit:

…And he was really cute! But I don’t remember his name. My mom asked him to show us where the gym was, so he started walking with us and my mom was like “Oops, Mal, I gotta meet dad, so you guys go ahead and call me after.” Haha. So typical, she just wanted to leave me alone with him. Wingmom!!!

Mallory Smith, ‘Salt in My Soul,’ Pg 31

You also get an intimate look at what it’s like to have CF, a genetic mutation which causes a defective protein to interfere with the ability of sodium to flow in and out of cells. This disruption affects many parts and functions of the body. In the lungs, it causes our usual thin mucus to become viscous and sluggish, causing the hallmark symptoms the disease is known for.

Salt is not an element the body can function without well. Mallory and other people with CF drink salinated water as a means to survive. In ‘Salt in My Soul,’ Smith explains their lives depend on it, as a person with CF could easily drown without the added salt.

If it’s the excitement of a medical drama you’re looking for, there’s no shortage of drama and intrigue with a condition like CF. Mallory shares her experiences with a rawness and immediacy that puts you up front and center during some of her toughest moments.

I woke up from the broncoscopy in a disoriented and feverish sepsis. Four nurses held me down on the bed as my entire body convulsed violently and erraticlly, while my fever quickly climbed from 103 to 104, then to 105, up to 106…

Mallory Smith, ‘Salt in My Soul,’ Pg 27
Pinterest photo with overlay text. In the background, a shot of calm blue ocean just off the shore. The text reads "I think I'm really afraid of change and the future and I hold onto the past. Every time something happens, I feel the need to write about it. I always want to have photos and I'm hugely afraid that Facebook could crash and all of my pictures could be lost. I don't ever want to forget anything and it scares me that things from as recent as freshman and sophomore years and sometimes even junior year are starting to blur in my memory." ~Mallory Smith, 'Salt in My Soul'

It’s easy to find yourself rooting for this young woman even though you know her life has already taken place, so brief, so beautiful, so full of compassion and love for the natural world which she defended with her writing.

You get a real feeling for Smith the Athlete, Smith the burgeoning woman and Smith the patient. Her words are easy to understand, yet filled with beauty and wisdom. Through the contributions of her mother, Diane Shader Smith and her friend Talia Stone whose words about Smith grace the first page of part one, you get a sense of how others saw Smith, her popularity among her school mates and more than a flash of what it’s be like to be the mother of someone with Cystic Fibrosis.

One of my favorite things about the book is rather simple. With such books one might anticipate being left hanging, but Mallory’s mother continues the story through journaling of her own, walking you through the complete journey the reader deserves and adding another vantage point from which to glean understanding and meaning.

‘Salt in my Soul’ is everything I’ve said and so many other things. From the introduction to the very last page, you’ll be hooked on every word. Get your copy now. Available in hardcover, on kindle or audiobook on Amazon or the retailer of your choice.

'Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life
 Author: Mallory Smith
 Hardcover: 320 pages
 Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (March 12, 2019)
 Language: English
 ISBN-10: 1984855425
 ISBN-13: 978-1984855428 

Buy the Book on Amazon: ‘Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life’ by Mallory Smith

Have you read ‘Salt In My Soul?’ What was one of your favorite things about the book? Let us know in the comments!

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