May I Cross Your Golden River?

Dixon, Paige

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn
  • Date of entry: Nov-01-1996
  • Last revised: Aug-31-2006


Jordan, an 18-year-old athlete, finds his joints weak and begins to stumble unaccountably. The local doctor who has known him all his life sends him to the Mayo clinic where a diagnosis of Lou Gherig’s disease is confirmed. His mother, three brothers, sister, and brother-in-law (an Episcopalian priest) accommodate to his illness, with its promise of early death, in various ways.

The family is supportive, though the youngest brother goes through weeks of denial that look like rejection before he allows himself to feel the emotional impact. Jordan’s adored girlfriend can’t rise to the challenge of loving a boy with no future, and distances herself, but leaves it up to him to acknowledge and effect a separation that leaves her free to pursue other relationships, and him to burrow deeper into the loving family that sustains him in his final months. He takes one last trip to the Colorado mountains with his younger brother where they meet an old mountaineer who senses immediately what might be happening and becomes for Jordan the type and figure of the wise old man.

Here as in other stories of this kind, time seems to conflate for the young person facing death; maturity comes in sudden leaps, and a certain calm descends before the end. One of Jordan’s final acts is to serve as godfather at the baptism of his sister’s baby, his namesake. The act and the letter he writes the child gives him a sense of leaving behind a legacy that matters.


The portrait of a young man in this story rings true. The eighteen-year-old vacillation between childish concerns and a rapidly widening and deepening adult perspective is sensitively and skillfully represented. Jordan’s varying emotional reactions to the progression of his disease cover a wide spectrum; he is no hero, but neither does he remain long in self-pity. The ways he devises to claim his life before he loses it are entirely in keeping with his stage of development.

The painful scenes with a much less mature girlfriend are offset by a wonderful series of vignettes of family life, including coming to terms with his brother-in-law, a priest who suddenly appears to be a resource he hadn’t recognized, as more ultimate questions become pressing. A sad but satisfying story that shows convincingly what acceptance looks like.


Paige Dixon is a pseudonym for Barbara Corcoran (see this database).


Macmillan: Atheneum

Place Published

New York