West Perry High School Students Read & Respond to Mallory Smith’s Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life

By Allan Spencer | April 13 2021 | English Language Arts

Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life is a collection of journal entries by Mallory Smith written over the course of 10 years, beginning at age 15 and ending with her death. Mallory was an intelligent, resilient young woman living with cystic fibrosis, who wrote about invisible and visible illness, mental health, and the challenges those with acute and/or chronic illness face, along with typical coming-of-age issues that all young people can relate to, like body image, fear of not fitting in, and finding the right college.

Teachers and students nationwide have embraced Mallory’s story, which has fostered thoughtful classroom discussions, written responses, and creative projects on these resonant topics. Lynne Reeder of West Perry High School read Salt in My Soul with her students this past year, and tied the book into her American Literature curriculum by asking students to keep response journals in which they drew connections on universal themes from their study of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and other classic authors with the thoughts Mallory recorded on her relationship to nature, human fragility, the impact of grief, and other topics. Through this process, students saw themselves in Mallory and in turn reflected on their own experiences in relation to these universal themes.

Example of student journals by Khaya Brownback (left and center) and Emily Zeiders (right)

“Living through a pandemic and striving for a sense of normalcy and progression in such an uncertain time and social climate has made my students more empathetic and able to relate to Mallory’s struggles even while not all coping with chronic illness conditions. They understood her stress and her heartbreak, her grief and her hope, her determination and her sense of meaninglessness in it at times,” Lynne Reeder said of her students’ experience reading and engaging with the book.

Students produced more incredible written work inspired by Salt in My Soul in response to the following prompt:

“Within Part 3 of Salt in My Soul, Mallory discusses an idea she had called (amongst other possibilities) The Redemption Project. She says that she wanted to have an online media source ‘that tells the stories of people who have struggled with something in their life and found hope somewhere’ (Smith 126). You are going to be enacting her vision and writing a personal narrative about something that has been a struggle in your life, and where you have found (or are still looking to find) hope as you process this experience.”

Student Molly Shull was inspired by Mallory to reflect on the pain of her parents’ divorce and the emotional journey that led her to accept this monumental shift in her family’s life. She writes, “Many people do not know that you have two houses, have loving parents who are strict about going places, and limited time with each of them. It makes everything a lot more difficult for you. But it’s better for them. Your parents are happier; they get to live their own lives without the strain on each other. You are ultimately happier although it was a drastic change. And you learned that relationships were not as perfect as they seem on the outside. Most importantly, you learned that no matter what is thrown at you, love is stronger than anything, and can hold your family together even if it is apart.” Click here to read Molly’s full personal narrative.

Another student, Kiera Metcalf, wrote on feelings of betrayal, guilt, and her relationship with her father: “You believe in everybody and try to understand them because everyone needs love. Even though you may not believe that you will ever fully forgive your father, you recognize that he too needs to be loved. You recognize that if it were not for the hurt that he caused you, you would not be who you are today.” Click here to read Kiera’s full personal narrative.

Salt in My Soul inspired students to engage with their own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs, just as Mallory did over the course of the 10 years she kept her journal. Reeder was moved by her students’ responses to and embrace of Mallory’s powerful story, saying, “I was very proud of the way they were able to draw important topics and investigate large social issues as a result of studying Mallory’s life.”

Click here to view and download a free teacher’s guide for Salt in My Soul.

Click here to request a free examination copy for classroom adoption consideration. 

Salt in My Soul
An Unfinished Life
The diaries of a remarkable young woman who was determined to live a meaningful and happy life despite her struggle with cystic fibrosis and a rare superbug—from age fifteen to her death at the age of twenty-five
$18.00 US
Jan 28, 2020
336 Pages
Random House Trade Paperbacks

Diary of a Dying Girl
Adapted from Salt in My Soul
This collection of one girl's real, unflinching diary entries about slowly dying of a terminal illness is an unparalleled exploration of the human spirit and what it means to truly live.
$19.99 US
May 07, 2024
384 Pages
Random House Books for Young Readers