Emmy is a shy, sheltered sixteen-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had
abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now, Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child.
Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door.
In a part of the country where the age-old tensions of cowboys versus Indians still play out, theirs is the kind of magical, fraught love that can only survive with the passion and resilience of youth. Their story is mirrored by the generation before them, who fears that their mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben. With Louise Erdrich’s sense of place and a love story in the tradition of Water for Elephants, this is an atmospheric family drama in which the question of home is a spiritual one, in which getting over the past is the only hope for the future.
Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Steal the North isn’t my typical read and to be honest that’s leaving me a little unsure of how I felt about it. There were definitely elements of it that I really liked, but there were also elements that just didn’t work for me.
First, let’s talk about the story. Emmy’s life is turned upside down when her mom tells her that everything she’s known about her non-existent family isn’t true. She’s spent the past 16 years thinking she had no family what-so-ever. Only her mom.
Her mother reveals that she’s not only got an aunt and uncle who care very much about her, but that the father she thought was dead, is in fact alive and living in Washington.
Now her mom is sending her to Washington to spend the summer and she’s not sure what to make of it.
While this story is ultimately a love story that isn’t only what it is. Steal the North touches on some pretty serious topics that have to do with family and race and there are some definite religious aspects that are touched on here as well.
Emmy’s Aunt Beth and Uncle Matt are part of a fundamentalist church that has some very strong beliefs that many would think foolish and the reason she’s going to them for the summer is to help perform a faith healing with her aunt to help her keep from miscarrying the baby she is carrying. Through the story you find out that Beth & Matt have struggled to start a family. Throughout their marriage she has struggled to carry a baby to term but her religious beliefs keep her from seeing a doctor. But Emmy has had very little religion in her life and she’s excited to get the opportunity to explore it without her mother hovering over her for the summer.
I struggled with the narrative of this story if I’m being honest. Each chapter is told from a different perspective which gives you a lot of different information and I can see how some people might enjoy it, but for me I felt like I was jumping around in a lot of different directions. I didn’t dislike it, it just wasn’t my favorite aspect of this story. It was nice to get a random perspective, for example, from her father’s point of view… but for me, I didn’t really need it if that makes sense. It felt like an extra piece that wasn’t necessary to the story and provided a lot of extra information that ultimately didn’t impact Emmy’s story.
I also struggled a bit with the writing style. I felt it was a bit choppy and I didn’t feel as much of a connection to the characters ultimately because of it. Emmy is shy and awkward and has spent much of her life sheltered by her mother. At least that’s what we’re meant to believe. She is definitely shy and awkward, but she ultimately struggles with who she is and what she believes in.
But she meets Rueben, a native American boy who lives next door to her aunt and uncle and she sort of clings to him. While I understand that she is only sixteen, there were times I struggled to understand her character and I felt she wasn’t always consistently portrayed. Rueben on the other hand, I felt was solidly portrayed. He has fallen for this ‘white girl’ but he wants more for both of them and though he would like her to stay past the summer, he isn’t going to force it.
I feel like I’m not telling you enough about this story and I think ultimately that is the best thing I can say about this novel. It’s not just about a summer romance and finding someone you want to belong with at the age of sixteen. There are so many other aspects to it. Each character had their own voice and Bergstrom does a wonderful job of expounding on each of their stories, which makes it hard to identify who exactly is supposed to be a secondary character.
This is definitely not a light, sweet summer romance. What you will find when picking this book up though, is a story of family and friendship, love and trust and learning to live through choices we make and the tragedies we all have in our lives. If you’re looking for a book with captivating characters and a story that will have you immersed in their lives definitely check out Steal the North.
Thank you to Viking Books for providing a copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.