Book Review: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

stealthenorthTitle: Steal the North
Author: Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Viking
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 315
First line: Until the summer I was sixteen and my mom sent me away, I lived with her in a Sacramento apartment located above a shop that sold seaweed powders, mood mists, Buddha statues, even menstruation journals.

Goodreads blurb: 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.

I am so glad I accepted a review copy of this book! When I received the pitch e-mail, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of review copies waiting on my shelf. I was sold, though, when I realized that Steal the North is set in my neck of the woods. Locations like Moses Lake, Spokane, the Colville Indian Reservation, and even the tiny town of Kettle Falls, where we used to live, feature prominently in the storyline. That was one of the biggest delights when reading – recognizing the places mentioned, having that feeling of “Hey! I’ve been there!” She definitely sees the beauty in Eastern Washington, which isn’t always easy. I live in one of the prettier parts of this side of the state, in my opinion, but that’s because I’m not a big fan of the desert. But the desert and scablands of Eastern Washington have their own majesty, as does the mighty Columbia River, and Bergstrom’s love of this part of the world is evident in her writing.

But familiar settings are not enough to make me love a book, and fortunately, there is plenty more to adore about Bergstrom’s story. It can be difficult to pull off a “multiple points of view” novel, but she does it, and does it well. The reader is given the advantage of more information than if the story only focused on one or two narrators. Bergstrom’s characters are unique, each with their own voice, and so it was always immediately evident whose story I was reading – I wouldn’t have needed the character name indicators at the beginning of the chapters, because the writing was completely individual in each case.

Each of the characters pulled me into their storyline quickly. You know how sometimes it takes getting quite far into a book before you feel an emotional connection to the characters? Well, that wasn’t the case here. Even Kate, Emmy’s mom, who wasn’t the most sympathetic character, was a character I could understand and empathize with. Reuben was by far my favorite character, though. I live very close to the Colville Indian Reservation. Before we moved down to Chewelah to live with my folks, we lived in the town of Colville, which is named for the tribe though not part of the reservation. It was extremely interesting to hear Reuben’s perspective on being caught between two worlds. When he tried to raise himself above the poverty and teenage parenthood and drug use that is rampant on the reservation, he was accused of being too “white.” But when off the reservation, even though he is a smart, responsible young man, he is discriminated against, simply because he is Native American. He is treated even worse, unfortunately, when people mistake him for a Mexican. His story made me sad, but gives the reader so much insight into a world that most of us do not understand.

There are multiple love stories in this book. The most obvious, of course, is Reuben and Emmy’s, which is a beautiful narrative. But Bergstrom also deals with the love between sisters, the complicated love between a mother and daughter, and also learning to trust love after being so devastatingly hurt, like in Kate’s situation.

I so wanted to give this book a five-star rating, but my own rating scale wouldn’t let me. My five-star ratings are reserved for books that I think everyone should read, and unfortunately, the sexual content of this book was a bit too much for me to give that unreserved recommendation. I still absolutely loved this book, though, and I know many of you will, too.

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8 Responses to Book Review: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I know what you mean about familiar setting enhancing a story. This sounds terrific!

  2. Susan says:

    That’s fun when a book is set in one’s locale. Sounds interesting.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sue – it’s pretty unusual for books to be set in Eastern Washington!

  3. Thank you so much, Carrie, for reviewing my debut novel, STEAL THE NORTH, on your blog. It’s an honor! Your reviews are very thorough and fair, I believe, and smart! It is fun to have a reviewer from eastern Washington! Most people are so unfamiliar with the drier half of the “Evergreen State,” and would probably be shocked by the scablands. I love them…have a huge map in my home “office.” From your review I can tell you really understood my novel and what I was setting out to accomplish. Thanks again, and best wishes.

    PS) For interested readers, here are my Facebook and author webpage links:

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Heather – you’re very welcome. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful book, Carrie. I love it when the sense of place is strong–and accurate. As someone who enjoys reading books set in familiar places, I can see why you were drawn to this one! It sounds, too, like this book tackles some rather serious and much deserved discussion-worthy type questions.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – It is one I would love to discuss with someone else who had read it – and I donated my copy to the library, in the hope that many other local readers will get to read the story.