“Book Review: North of Highway 8“
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
A nostalgic novel filled with life’s little lessons about home, the need to escape, and the shock of rediscovering what you left behind
With nature-filled northern Wisonsin as the backdrop, North of Highway 8 examines the idea of coming back home when you feel you’ve outgrown it. It doesn’t take long for Matt, Gardner’s protagonist, to realize that there’s more to his old town than he once believed.
Matt works for a big-time PR company in Atlanta and is slightly shocked to hear he is the front runner for a new temporary position with a big payout. With just a few months of work required, it’s the kind of job he could only dream of taking on.
But there is one downside: it requires him to go back to rural Wisconsin where he grew up. He has the task of convincing very stubborn people to get on board with a new technology company moving to town. As he’s confronted with what he’s left behind, his career hangs in the balance, as does his way of thinking.
“The things I hide with the monotony of everyday life began to boil. To cool them, I spoke.”
Years of overworking has brought Matt to a pessimism that I don’t often encounter in protagonists. He’s annoyed by the surroundings he chooses to put himself in. The trust-fund colleagues and showy businessmen don’t sit well with him no matter how hard he tries to fit in with them, and he is sure to comment on the ridiculousness of it all every chance he gets.
But where Matt’s pessimism stands out, it’s the secondary characters who help the novel shine. Matt’s assistant Brit, for example, accompanies him on the journey and provides a breath of fresh air, often reminding Matt to humble himself. As a Black woman plopped down in an entirely white rural area, she’s got more differences to battle there than he does, allowing us to step away from the protagonist, view him objectively, and recognize that he’s got some growing to do.
Brit isn’t the only great secondary character though. Nicole and Patrick, two northern Wisconsin locals and adamant rejectors of Wolftek, both provide an optimistic and positive balance to their relationships with Matt. His parents are also an inspiring duo, who show by example that a simple life isn’t really something to be looked down upon.
Gardner does an excellent job of using an unhappy character to showcase all the positives that can come when you recenter yourself and get back to caring about what really matters.
North of highway 8 is where Matt says the real north begins. This setting is written with such love and care. Jacob Gardner’s descriptions of the landscapes, lakes, and other aspects of nature in the north are written about so tenderly that you’ll want to see it for yourself, even if the weather gets brutally cold and the people are potentially less than friendly to newcomers.
As someone who has moved away from home and later returned, I could really appreciate Gardner’s earnest approach to the concept of You can’t go home again. Anyone with strong feelings about where they’re from—either with love or hate—will feel like this book was written for them.
Publisher: New Degree Press
Genre: Literary Fiction / Small Town & Rural
Print Length: 204 pages
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