Don’t let this cover fool you! North of Here is much darker than the cover suggests…
Author: Laurel Saville
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
The sounds of unexpected tragedies—a roll of thunder, the crash of metal on metal—leave Miranda in shock amid the ruins of her broken family.
As she searches for new meaning in her life, Miranda finds quiet refuge with her family’s handyman, Dix, in his cabin in the dark forests of the Adirondack Mountains. Dix is kind, dependable, and good with an ax—the right man to help the sheltered Miranda heal—but ultimately, her sadness creates a void even Dix can’t fill.
When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception. And in her desperate quest to find herself after losing almost everything, Miranda and Dix could pay a higher price than they ever imagined.
For some reason I thought North of Here was going to be a mindless & “fluffy” read, but much to my surprise (and delight) this book was much deeper than I was expecting. Maybe it was the cute cover? ((which doesn’t really fit the book in my opinion)) or maybe it was the fact that I didn’t read the synopsis very closely… Either way, North of Here tackled darker themes like loss, grief, depression, alcoholism, and manipulation.
Let’s start off with what is well done in North of Here. One thing I think is very well done is the portrayal of loss & grief. Poor Miranda is thrown one tragedy after the next, and I felt the way she goes through her grief was very relatable & believable. I cannot tell you how many times something awful happens to a character in a book, and everything is fine and dandy by the next page. Miranda spends the entirety of the book searching for happiness and her purpose in life, which is something I’m sure many of us can relate to.
Another aspect about the book I really liked was the depiction of the cult-like group and Darius’s manipulation throughout the book. I didn’t read the synopsis very closely before diving into this book, but if you read the book description, it is pretty clear that there is some funny business going on:
When a man from her distant past turns up, the handsome idealist now known as Darius, he offers Miranda a chance to do meaningful work at The Source, a secluded property filled with his nature worshipers. Miranda feels this charismatic guru is the key to remaking her life, but her grief and desire for love also create an opportunity for his deception.
For someone who studied these types of groups & people in school, I can say with some certainty that the author did her research and nailed this representation of both the group members, and Darius in particular. Manipulators are often very charming, appealing, & charismatic, so it really isn’t too hard to believe how someone who is emotionally unstable, like Miranda, can fall victim to these people. People who tend to be easily manipulated are generally emotionally unstable, many come from chaotic & broken family backgrounds, often they grew up in a lower social class (though not in Miranda’s case), and many are involved with drugs and/or alcohol in some way. For a reasonable person looking in, we often wonder how people can fall victim to people like Darius, HOWEVER if you look at their victims it really isn’t farfetched. They tend to prey on the emotionally & mentally weak, offering them what they crave: a home, “love,” a purpose, etc.
There wasn’t exactly any likeable characters in North of Here, so if you need to have strong positive connections to characters to enjoy a book, this one might not be the one for you. I wanted to shake Miranda & Dix throughout the entire book. This frustration really made it so that I didn’t really connect with either character, nor did I really care about their outcomes. Miranda makes numerous questionable decisions for no apparent reason. Let’s just say I “side-eyed” Miranda for the majority of the book. I also did NOT understand Dix’s attraction to Miranda or why he put up with as much as he did. Obviously, Darius was an ass-hat without any redeemable qualities… The only character I had a slight fondness for was Sally, who also made questionable choices, but at least saw through the bullshit. In my opinion, this book would have been better told in 1st person vs. 3rd. I really think this would have helped me connect to the characters better and better understood their motives & decisions. I also think it would have been better told through only two perspectives, Miranda & Dix, versus the four alternating perspectives of Miranda, Darius, Dix, & Sally. I don’t necessarily need to like any characters in order for me to enjoy a book, BUT I do need to have a good grasp on motives & why characters make certain decisions.
North of Here is moderately paced and I never really experienced any type of lag in the plotline. My interest was held throughout the book, as I never really knew where the author was going. There was a crazy plot twist which I did NOT see coming, HOWEVER it wasn’t fully developed. The author basically mentioned that it happened, but didn’t actually ever show the scene? It was very odd. Had this particular plot point been explained a little more, the book would have been progressively better. This isn’t to say I disagree with how things panned out, just that the author did not spend enough time developing the twist. The ending was also little too tidy & convenient in my opinion. I would have much preferred things a little more open ended or even more messier, as it would have fit the book better.
To be frank, the book is a bit of a downer. Normally, I am all for a tragic books (Wuthering Heights is one of my all time favorite books and what’s more depressing than that book?), but for some reason the somber tone of this book didn’t hit the right cord with me. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but it felt like the author overdid it with the bleak atmosphere… It is very possible that this is a case of reading a book at the wrong time, HOWEVER I felt there needed to be a little more balance with more light-hearted moments.
Overall, North of Here turned out to be a decent read with some issues. Like I mentioned above, it held my interest & had depth to the story. I think the story itself is solid, but wish the author had chosen to tell the story in a different way.