Author Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won awards for her short fiction from the Chicago Tribune and Atlantic Monthly, among others. Her outstanding debut novel, Steal the North, is almost guaranteed to add to Bergstrom’s award collection. Narrated from multiple perspectives, the novel is a heartbreaking tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the unbreakable bond of family.
Sixteen-year-old Emmy Nolan is a sheltered only child living with her mother in Sacramento, California. Emmy knows very little about her mother Kate’s childhood, with good reason: Kate wishes to leave her past in the past. Until the day Kate receives a phone call from her estranged sister, Beth, summoning Emmy to her home in rural Washington—the town Kate had fled 15 years earlier, with baby Emmy, after her boyfriend abandoned her and her own father and the fundamentalist church they attended shunned her.
The passion, spiritual connection and once-in-a-lifetime love that Reuben and Emmy share makes the reader’s heart ache—and could secure Steal the North a spot on the bookshelves of discerning teens.
But now Beth, the only person who stood up for Kate during that time, is begging for her help. She is pregnant for what she believes is the final time; Beth and her husband Matt have experienced too many miscarriages to count during their marriage. She wants Kate to send Emmy to participate in a faith healing ceremony to help ensure a safe delivery.
Though angry with her mother for keeping secrets and dubious about moving in with an aunt she doesn’t remember, Emmy reluctantly goes. While living with Matt and Beth, she makes discoveries about her mother’s past that are painful, but her life is broadened and awakened in ways that she had never imagined. Bergstrom’s knowledge of eastern Washington, the Colville and Yakama Reservations and the lives of the Native Americans who live there are central to this novel—especially her careful construction of Emmy’s relationship with Reuben Tonasket, the Native American who lives in the trailer next door. The passion, spiritual connection and once-in-a-lifetime love that Reuben and Emmy share makes the reader’s heart ache—and could secure Steal the North a spot on the bookshelves of discerning teens.
Bergstrom has delivered a debut novel with deep emotional ties, linking the reader to Emmy as she navigated her relationship with Reuben, struggled to understand her mother’s past and discovered her own identity. I ached for Emmy as I used up the last of my tissues, and I trust that anyone who embarks on this journey will do the same.