Finding an inner compass

Review of “Steal the North” by Brittain Bergstrom.

 

Steal the North
Heather Brittain Bergstrom
315 pages, hardcover:
$27.95
Viking, 2014.

In her debut novel, Steal the North, Heather Brittain Bergstrom has drawn on her own childhood in eastern Washington and current life in Northern California to share the tale of a shy Sacramento teenager inhabiting those same locales. Steal the North begins with 16-year-old Emmy reluctantly heading north to Washington to spend the summer with an aunt, Bethany, whose existence she has just learned about. Emmy’s mother, Kate, had always insisted that she had no living relatives. Now married and expecting a baby, Bethany tracks down her estranged sister and begs her to send Emmy to Moses Lake, Washington. For Bethany has suffered earlier miscarriages and believes that she needs Emmy’s help, along with a special faith healing ceremony, to carry this child to term. Bergstrom’s first novel offers a riveting story of first love entwined with faith, family tragedy and the power of place.

Staying at her aunt’s trailer park, Emmy meets Reuben, the beautiful, athletic boy next door. As their friendship grows, the socially awkward Emmy begins to feel at home for the first time in her life. Reuben, who is Native American, shares his spiritual connection to the windswept scablands and rivers. The first time she touched the Columbia River, Emmy says, “he told me to close my eyes so I could feel the river’s pulse. It was faint under all that backwater but it was definitely there.”

As the family drama unfolds, Emmy discovers more about her mother’s secret past and begins to bond with her aunt. Unfortunately, Bergstrom’s narrative strategy occasionally gets in the way; she lets other characters take turns telling parts of the story, and some of those characters are simply not as well realized as her young leads.

But the novel’s strong sense of place prevents Steal the North from becoming just another tangled melodrama. Emmy learns that the rugged eastern Washington landscape is central to her identity. Walking into a wheat field “in the land of my father,” she says, “the land pulled on the bones of my feet. I kept my hands in the dry, rustling wheat and just breathed.” Bergstrom reminds us that the landscape is more than just a scenic backdrop; it is also the thing that anchors us to our lives.

High Country News Classifieds
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • COLD WEATHER CRAFTS
    Unique handmade gifts from the Gunnison Valley. Soy lotion candles, jewelry, art, custom photo mandalas and more. Check out the website and buy Christmas locally...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.