December 10, 2014

Latest Read: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Publication date: Apr. 10, 2014
Publisher: Viking Adult
Category: Adult - Contemporary Fiction
Source: Purchased
Summary: Emmy Nolan is a sheltered & introverted sixteen-year-old living in Sacramento with her mom, Kate, when a phone call comes from an aunt she never knew existed. Years ago, Kate had abandoned her only sibling, Beth, fleeing their tiny town & the fundamentalist Baptist church that had condemned her as a whore. Beth, who's pregnant again after countless miscarriages, believes her only hope to delivering the baby is Emmy's participation in a faith healing ceremony. Emmy reluctantly goes. Despite uncovering her mom's painful past, she soon finds she has come home--immediately developing a strong bond with her aunt Beth. Then Emmy meets Reuben Tonasket, the Native American boy who lives next door. Passion-filled & resilient, their love story is eerily mirrored by the generation before them, who fear that their own mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben.  (Adapted goodreads.com)

The good
Steal the North is one of those novels that’s heartbreakingly sad — almost too sad, at times — and yet impossible to look away from. There are many point-of-views in this book (which worked for me!) but the main three were: Emmy, an extremely shy and sheltered 16-year-old; Kate, her single mother and hardworking professor who hasn’t looked back since leaving her oppressive small town in Washington; and Beth, Kate’s naive but loving sister and the aunt Emmy didn’t know she had. There are other perspectives too, like the different men who have touched these women’s lives, but when it comes down to it, it’s their story. And even though at times it may seem like Emmy is the "main" protagonist, she wouldn’t be who she is today without her mother and aunt.

Kate and Beth were raised in a Baptist church with strict rules about clothes, education, technology and modern medicine. Basically, they shunned it. And when it came to boys and sex, women were supposed to wait until marriage. So when Kate gets pregnant as a teenager, her father disowns her. Their church casts her out like they’re still living in the old Testament. The father of her child won’t support her. All Kate has is her sister and her sister’s boyfriend-turned-husband to help her through her pregnancy and later, motherhood. When circumstances get too difficult though, Kate heads to California, bringing her daughter Emmy with her and creating this huge rift between Kate and Beth. Until Beth calls one day needing their help and Kate lets Emmy go back for a summer to be with her aunt. It’s a summer that changes Emmy, as one would expect, and lets her discover who she is, what she missed out on and find her voice. Granted, that voice made me want to reach into the book and shake Emmy but I did understand that she had been lied to her entire life and who knows what any of us would do in her shoes.

The funny thing is, I found myself sympathizing with Kate more and more as the story progressed. Kate definitely micromanaged every moment of Emmy's life. Dictating classes, future college plans, school activities. But only because she was denied those opportunities at her daughter's age and wanted Emmy to have it all. Yes, maybe she should’ve stopped and asked Emmy what she wanted but at the same time, she had good intentions. And maybe it’s because I’m older or because I have a better relationship with my own mother now than I did in high school, but I couldn’t help feeling sad for Kate as Emmy grew closer to Beth and further away from her. I liked Emmy’s perspective though, even when I didn’t necessarily like her. She loves her aunt and her uncle dearly and lights up their home. When she meets Reuben, the boy next door, it’s a passionate first love that she didn’t quite know how to handle at times. I guess my point is, she loves deeply and in a way befitting her age and upbringing (if she had more life experience, she probably would've been a different character) and the author remained true to that.

(Minor) reservations
Usually I’m not a huge fan of books with more than two point-of-views and yet I loved it here. Even if a character got only one chapter in their perspective, it was enough to make me want more which says a lot about the author’s writing. But it’s also one of my reservations because I wanted more of certain people and that didn’t always happen. I wanted to know more about Kate’s past, more about Beth who felt like an enigma to me. Why did she continue to believe in the same church that shunned Kate? Why didn’t she speak more to Emmy about Kate and their relationship? Why didn’t she think about reaching out to them sooner? So many questions. Maybe that was the author’s intent but I think knowing those things would’ve let me connect to Beth more.

A big part of Emmy’s story is her relationship with Reuben but it actually interested me the least. I was torn between thinking it was “true love” and thinking it was borderline unhealthy on both sides. I’m all about love conquering obstacles but I really questioned their choices.

Do I recommend?
I do. I really enjoyed reading adult fiction for a change (despite Emmy’s age, this isn’t YA and certainly doesn’t read like one). It made me emotional, uncomfortable, sad and hopeful for these characters. If you’re at all interested, check it out.

Happy reading!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Rachel! It definitely made my week! I found your comments about Kate interesting. Many readers (and even my editor) find her more of a villain than I had intended. Thanks for your careful read and thoughtful, thorough review. I am hard at work on my second novel. I am so impressed by how many books you read! You go, girl! Much appreciation, Heather

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  2. How very interesting! I've been seeing positive reviews for Steal the North, which makes me really curious. Your thoughts on it, however, have cemented my desire to at the very least check it out for myself. I love the fact that, in part, the novel explores this relationship between Emmy, Kate and Beth, and I'm admittedly curious to find out the conclusion to it all.

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