Steal the North by Heather B. Bergstorm ( facebook )
Publication Date: April 10, 2014
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family secrets, faith, nature, young love
Format read: Borrowed from library after glowing rec from Leah at The Pretty Good Gatsby.
Summary: Sixteen year old Emmy is shipped off to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle she never knew existed. Her aunt is pregnant, and after a series of miscarriages, the church is performing a ritual on her and they need a family member who is also a virgin. Emmy spends her summer getting to know her delicate aunt, her loving uncle, and the boy next door — Reuben — who becomes the closest friend she has ever had. Time with her aunt means many questions about the secrets her mom kept, who she really is, and affects who she wants to become.
This is hands down one of the best fiction books I’ve picked up in years.
I was nervous about it, too. Leah over at The Pretty Good Gatsby awarded the book such high praise. Wanting to feel the same felt like an added pressure but a chapter in, I was hooked. With Steal the North, you aren’t sucked in in a way where you want to speed read the whole thing. As the book shifts POVs from the big hitters like Emmy, her mom (Kate), her aunt (Beth), and Reuben (the boy next door) to the smaller characters, there is a lot of exposition. Explanations of backgrounds, family trees, and a lot of beautiful description of this Pacific Northwest town. The land is its own character because in all of these stories, it has been a catalyst in the decisions then make and who they are all destined to become.
Emmy is a bit of a conundrum. There are so instances she acts so wise and so much older than she is, but there are others where she can be so naive and so inexperienced in life. She is so tied to her mom because for so long Kate made her believe it was them against the world. No other relatives and a dead father. But imagine the surprise when Emmy finds out that her own story is not what she thought at all. She is quickly sent off to stay with her Aunt Beth and Uncle Matt for the summer, without enough time to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s many lies.
Immediately, Emmy and Beth are like peas and carrots. The intimacy and connection they shared when Emmy was just a baby is back, and they spend much of the summer getting to know each other all over again. I loved their relationship. Beth and Matt are very into the church, but they don’t expect Emmy to believe what they believe and I liked the respect they had for her. Her time alone eventually leads to her spending a lot of time with Reuben, a Native American teenager, who lives in the trailer next door.
It was Beth and Reuben’s belief in much more than what they could see that took Steal the North to a whole new level for me. Beth concocting her antidotes around the house, and Reuben sensing the presence of his dead father, and both of their commitments to the earth fused to create this overpowering spirituality in the whole book. The secrets and the pasts of these characters was haunting every scene, and the fear, the shame, and even the hope was so palpable. It’s overwhelming to think words on a page could be this powerful.
Steal the North is a love story not limited to the feelings between Reuben and Emmy. Mothers and daughters, sisters, husbands and wives, and most importantly how we feel about ourselves. The sense of loyalty, the heartbreaking betrayal, and the tough decisions we make because of our love for others can be found throughout the story. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, and I wondered if this family could ever be whole again. Could Emmy break out of her shell and trust? Could she forgive her mother and forgive herself?
This book is as much about death as it is rebirth. I am totally in awe of Bergstorm’s talents: how well she described the land, her decisions to reveal important information what she did, her pick of what character got to tell what, and most importantly, how she challenged her characters and stretched them beyond their comfort zones. Life could be hard, and it could also be good. Very, very good.
From the writing to the characters to how invested I felt in the smallest detail to the biggest, Steal the North is a book I am going to give a special spot on my bookshelf and buy for others whenever I get the chance.