Every other month you can find an AB4T debut author interview in the SLJ Teen Newsletter. Last week featured an interview with Heather Brittain Bergstrom, author of Steal the North. I thought I would include some excerpts from that interview here, but it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.
One of the central themes of Bergstrom’s short work is escaping from Eastern Washington state, where she grew up. In this novel, she features a character who does the reverse–she returns to the place she was born, the place her mother left in search of a better life. In her SLJ Teen interview, the author writes,
“I realized how much, like it or not, I had been shaped by the landscape of my childhood. I had left it, but it had not left me. Returning for visits, I began to see beauty where before I only saw ugliness. I had to accept the starkness of my homeland, and once I did, the place captivated me. Emmy is my first fictional character to yearn for eastern Washington. Hers is the first migration north, rather than south.”
So many teens yearn to leave their hometowns, to discover the larger world. They will empathize with Emmy’s mother. But they will also understand Emmy herself, as she finds love and belonging in the North.
The boy she falls for, Reuben, lives on a Native American reservation. This is a novel told in multiple voices, and Reuben’s chapters “practically wrote themselves.” Bergstrom wanted to bring Indians out of the past:
“My novel shows them as they are nowadays: kids in high school, struggling with algebra and playing football; health-care worker; dancers at powwows; riders at rodeos; teenagers cruising in trucks and eating gas station nachos; old people waiting at medical centers; all ages drumming at churches; elders wearing Nikes and praying beside creeks for the salmon to return.”
BERGSTROM, Heather Brittain. Steal the North. 336p. Viking. April. 2014. Tr. $27.95. ISBN 9780670786183.
At 16, Emmy learns that her mother, Kate, has been keeping secrets. Emmy’s father didn’t really die in a tractor accident. And Emmy has an aunt living in Eastern Washington state who once loved the teen as a mother. Kate had her reasons for leaving that part of their lives in the past, but now Aunt Beth needs Emmy. After years of tragic miscarriages, Beth is pregnant again. Her church minister is proposing a healing ceremony that requires a virgin to lay hands on Beth’s womb. Kate is reluctant to send Emmy from their Sacramento home, fearing her daughter’s exposure to Beth’s Baptist fundamentalist beliefs. Emmy, for her part, knows that she is not a virgin. Nevertheless, Emmy settles into life with Beth and her husband, Matt, in their trailer park. But her placid life is shaken when she meets Reuben Tonasket, a Native American boy who often stays with his family next door. The two have an instant connection. For romance fans, the growing tenderness between Emmy and Reuben will propel them through the book. The strong sense of place then transforms the story from a family drama to an exploration of history and landscape, focusing on walls that still exist between Native American and white people. Equally important is the focus on a fundamentalist religion that holds Beth secure and comforted, but drives her sister Kate away. Fans of Jodi Picoult and Sara Zarr will enjoy this coming-of-age novel with multiple social issues.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN