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“Hassler’s brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless.” —Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review “Hassler has tapped every pulse with his pen. This is his sixth novel, and it is great.” —Detroit Free Press Master storyteller Jon Hassler draws us i “Hassler’s brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless.” —Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review “Hassler has tapped every pulse with his pen. This is his sixth novel, and it is great.” —Detroit Free Press Master storyteller Jon Hassler draws us into the vividly rendered, emotionally charged world of Father Frank Healy, a priest hoping to reawaken a vocation that he fears is leaking away. Working at a mission on an Ojibway reservation in Northern Minnesota, Frank unexpectedly encounters his old high school girlfriend, Libby, and is swept up in a gripping drama of temptation, crime, and love that shows him how wounded hearts are healed. This absorbing novel, among Hassler’s finest, is a beautifully told tale of blighted spirits restored by the power of hope.


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“Hassler’s brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless.” —Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review “Hassler has tapped every pulse with his pen. This is his sixth novel, and it is great.” —Detroit Free Press Master storyteller Jon Hassler draws us i “Hassler’s brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless.” —Richard Russo, New York Times Book Review “Hassler has tapped every pulse with his pen. This is his sixth novel, and it is great.” —Detroit Free Press Master storyteller Jon Hassler draws us into the vividly rendered, emotionally charged world of Father Frank Healy, a priest hoping to reawaken a vocation that he fears is leaking away. Working at a mission on an Ojibway reservation in Northern Minnesota, Frank unexpectedly encounters his old high school girlfriend, Libby, and is swept up in a gripping drama of temptation, crime, and love that shows him how wounded hearts are healed. This absorbing novel, among Hassler’s finest, is a beautifully told tale of blighted spirits restored by the power of hope.

30 review for North of Hope

  1. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    Some of the best parts of the book are found in the quiet little corners, humorous or profound asides where ordinary people are allowed their thoughts, musings or dreams. One particularly poignant scene involves, ‘Loving-Kindness’, the actual nick-name of the aging monsignor, who mistakenly answers a phone call from a woman not meant for him. Their conversation is at cross-purposes and priceless. Hassler is the master of innocent little gems where characters are both touched but not in the way e Some of the best parts of the book are found in the quiet little corners, humorous or profound asides where ordinary people are allowed their thoughts, musings or dreams. One particularly poignant scene involves, ‘Loving-Kindness’, the actual nick-name of the aging monsignor, who mistakenly answers a phone call from a woman not meant for him. Their conversation is at cross-purposes and priceless. Hassler is the master of innocent little gems where characters are both touched but not in the way either intended and yet you sense it is exactly the way Someone Else did. They tend to be subtle and the careful reader is well-rewarded. I also loved the fast moving dialogue, the distinct and varied personalities, the synchronization of events and especially the harsh setting of the vast Northern landscape, which almost seems to take on a life of its own, sometimes silent, other times stormy, yet ever present. Although initially I was intimidated by the book's size, once I got into it, I wanted it to be even thicker. Well, let us be honest, I hoped I could stay there, that the book would never end. Very absorbing read. ><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Wow this book is THICK! Ha! I must be getting old ... judging my books by size rather than by content. Updated for grammar: November 16, 2017

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    It's difficult to write a story about a priest — particularly one that depicts him displaying a very human and lifelong attraction to a member of the opposite sex — without descending into the smarmy or, just as bad, the sanctimonious. But in "North of Hope," Jon Hassler pulls it off. Those worried that Hassler does not treat the priesthood with respect should note that one edition of this book is published by Loyola Classics, a Jesuit ministry. That Hassler succeeds is no surprise to readers wh It's difficult to write a story about a priest — particularly one that depicts him displaying a very human and lifelong attraction to a member of the opposite sex — without descending into the smarmy or, just as bad, the sanctimonious. But in "North of Hope," Jon Hassler pulls it off. Those worried that Hassler does not treat the priesthood with respect should note that one edition of this book is published by Loyola Classics, a Jesuit ministry. That Hassler succeeds is no surprise to readers who know him. Through a dozen novels (OK, perhaps a couple were slim enough to be called novellas) he took a fair, funny, loving, sometimes stark but always very human look at Minnesotans, specifically, northern Minnesotans. His characters often are lovable but are imperfect. "North of Hope" is one of those books you feel much better about when it ends than while you are negotiating its interior. It really got to me, even as, here and there, I wondered, "Is it really his best book, as many say?" I still can't make that call; his debut, "Staggerford," might be as entertaining, and I'm only six novels into my Hassler journey, after all. But the novel is a very good one; in time, your heart cozies up to it. The book gives the initial impression that it is 500-plus pages of will-they-or-won't-they: Frank Healy, a 44-year-old Catholic priest, reconnects with "the one" from his teen years as her third marriage gets rockier. But there really are surprising layers to this story. Hassler digs so deeply into this tale and spreads the net wide enough that I sometimes wondered whether he had shortchanged the Frank/Libby relationship. As a teen, Frank, motherless, got all tingly at the sight of Libby, and they were close friends despite Libby's decision to look elsewhere for romance (and getting unexpectedly pregnant) in the first of her unfortunate marriages. Frank is doted on by his priest, Father Lawrence, and Lawrence's housekeeper, and, hearing that his mother made deathbed wishes for him to become a priest, naturally turns his gentle, quiet nature in that direction. His decision never is one of resignation, but his feelings for Libby hover like a floater you see at the edge of your vision. Frank finds himself springing a midlife "leak" at his first parish, unable to complete his sermons. Downsizing as an associate pastor to Father Lawrence — now Monsignor Lawrence — with responsibilities at an Ojibway reservation, a mission church in tiny Basswood, Frank starts to find himself. Enter Libby, after 20-some years, back into his life, exiled to Basswood with her disgraced doctor husband who is a drug supplier on the side. Libby's daughter, in her mid-20s, is a wild child fighting her own battle. Hassler weaves in Native Americans struggling to keep their town alive while battling drugs and alcoholism, Frank's attempts to reach his flock while supporting the monsignor in his slow fade and dealing with the monsignor's new housekeeper, figuring out his feelings for Libby and trying to rescue Libby's daughter from her bad decisions and the trouble forced upon her. As one might glean, there is less humor afoot than is typical for Hassler, but that approach suits the tale. Hassler puts you smack-dab in a northern Minnesota winter until your toes are numb and you're rubbing warmth into your face. Puts us among all these people who are "north of hope" but fighting for a better life, some morally bankrupt, some helplessly self-destructive, some good but struggling anyway. It's a wonderful book. Hassler brings home the Frank/Libby dilemma with panache, and this alternately hopeful and sad book and its characters creak and crack sometimes like the frozen lake the people drive over, but ultimately, it holds solid.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    Lovely. Jon Hassler is sort of the Richard Russo of Northern Minnesota. I would happily have read an entire book about these characters as teenagers. I was just so charmed by the Linden Falls of 1950, but Hassler had a different story to tell. After introducing us to Frank and Libby as youngsters, he jumps forward 25 years to examine the ways in which life choices at the age of 17 or 18 determine what our lives will look like at middle age. I fell in love with Father Frank Healy in somewhat the Lovely. Jon Hassler is sort of the Richard Russo of Northern Minnesota. I would happily have read an entire book about these characters as teenagers. I was just so charmed by the Linden Falls of 1950, but Hassler had a different story to tell. After introducing us to Frank and Libby as youngsters, he jumps forward 25 years to examine the ways in which life choices at the age of 17 or 18 determine what our lives will look like at middle age. I fell in love with Father Frank Healy in somewhat the same way I fell in love with Father Melancholy in Gail Godwin's novel. While I don't share their religious beliefs or dedication to ritual, I do admire some clerics for their devotion to service. What stands out most boldly about Frank is not his Catholicism, but his willingness to BE THERE, any time, any place, for anyone who needs him. He offers steadfast friendship, money, protection, nonjudgmental advice, humor, and most of all, HOPE. After a dreadful winter, Libby says to Frank, "It's like hope doesn't reach this far north." To which Frank replies, "But it does, Libby. Hope goes wherever you want it to." To me, that is Frank's purpose in the lives of his parishioners. He is hope incarnate.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike Coleman

    Ask any fiction writers to name their favorite authors, and Jon Hassler’s name might very well be mentioned. This Minnesota writer’s first novel, Staggerford, has become so revered in writers’ circles since its 1977 publication that the journal Hassler kept while writing the book has also been released to great acclaim. One of his later novels, North of Hope, is wonderful, too. Trouble brews when Father Frank Healy re-encounters his unrequited adolescent love, Libby Girard, in middle age. Things Ask any fiction writers to name their favorite authors, and Jon Hassler’s name might very well be mentioned. This Minnesota writer’s first novel, Staggerford, has become so revered in writers’ circles since its 1977 publication that the journal Hassler kept while writing the book has also been released to great acclaim. One of his later novels, North of Hope, is wonderful, too. Trouble brews when Father Frank Healy re-encounters his unrequited adolescent love, Libby Girard, in middle age. Things aren’t so unrequited this time around. Libby is unhappily married to a doctor in the rural Minnesota town where Frank has taken a new assignment as parish priest. Already questioning his strength as a clergyman—he has gone blank during recent homilies—Frank wonders if loving Libby is God’s true calling for him, especially as he learns how twisted her marriage really is. What could be soap opera in less capable hands is a life-affirming story of one man’s faith. Hassler can nail a scene or character in a few brushstrokes. He slyly finds humor in every situation, no matter how grim. And it is brilliant the way he shows us the most chilling part of the doctor’s character unbeknownst to Frank and Libby. Wondering how they will discover it—or will they?—keeps the pages turning. This is a landscape where cracking ice in frozen lakes can boom like thunder in the night, where husbands betray their wives, daughters betray their mothers and hope seems a long way off. But no matter how bleak Hassler’s world may seem at times, he eventually leads his characters to light and warmth—and his readers, too.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ellen

    One of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers: the story of Fr. Frank Healy hitting the "big leak" of a midlife crisis as he accompanies his high school crush and best friend through her own crisis is written with Hassler's typically clear, deceptively simple prose. Hassler is a "Catholic" writer in many senses: Catholic himself, many of the main characters in many of his novels are also Catholic and move about in a Catholic milieu: parishes, rectories. But I think his writing is so hum One of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers: the story of Fr. Frank Healy hitting the "big leak" of a midlife crisis as he accompanies his high school crush and best friend through her own crisis is written with Hassler's typically clear, deceptively simple prose. Hassler is a "Catholic" writer in many senses: Catholic himself, many of the main characters in many of his novels are also Catholic and move about in a Catholic milieu: parishes, rectories. But I think his writing is so human, so universal that anyone who enjoys good writing could enjoy him.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary Aalgaard

    This was my third reading of North of Hope. It's one of my favorite books. Reading Hassler is like sitting on my front porch and watching my neighbors. He lived and taught in Brainerd for part of his career, so the setting and characters feel so familiar. North of Hope has the best first paragraph/chapter of any book I've read, ending with "she's the one." What I love about Frank Healy and Libby is their deep, spiritual relationship. Frank has dedicated himself to God and his profession as a pri This was my third reading of North of Hope. It's one of my favorite books. Reading Hassler is like sitting on my front porch and watching my neighbors. He lived and taught in Brainerd for part of his career, so the setting and characters feel so familiar. North of Hope has the best first paragraph/chapter of any book I've read, ending with "she's the one." What I love about Frank Healy and Libby is their deep, spiritual relationship. Frank has dedicated himself to God and his profession as a priest. Libby is a wounded soul, wandering the Earth, searching for connection. She finds it with Frank. North of Hope is also about the harshness of life Up North, where the winters nearly freeze your spirits to the core, but the promise of Spring and deeper connections keep the spark alive. I first read this book when I was in my 30's when I attended a workshop lead by Jon Hassler. I read it again shortly after my divorce when I was in my 40's, and I'm reading it now. I just turned 50 and find myself sailing solo again on life's rocky waters. I think I'll read this book once every decade. You've heard of comfort food. North of Hope is my comfort book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Many years ago, I read this book as part of a class on "The Modern Catholic Novel". It was the only book I enjoyed or connected to of the required reading, so much so that I reread it every few years, mostly as the nights get longer and the weather turns cold. The title comes from one of the main characters, who in the grips of despair wonders "Maybe hope doesn't reach this far north?" and as you read about the turmoil that Frank are going through, you begin to wonder that yourself. Many years ago, I read this book as part of a class on "The Modern Catholic Novel". It was the only book I enjoyed or connected to of the required reading, so much so that I reread it every few years, mostly as the nights get longer and the weather turns cold. The title comes from one of the main characters, who in the grips of despair wonders "Maybe hope doesn't reach this far north?" and as you read about the turmoil that Frank are going through, you begin to wonder that yourself.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stewart

    “North of Hope” is one of Jon Hassler’s most ambitious and, at 663 pages in the Loyola Classics edition I read, longest works of fiction. Published in 1990, the novel follows the life of Frank Healy from when he was a junior in high school in the small town of “Linden Falls, Minnesota” in 1949, his becoming a Catholic priest in his 20s, the complicated on-and-off friendship over three decades with adolescent love Libby Girard, and the culmination of the novel’s events during their 44th year in “North of Hope” is one of Jon Hassler’s most ambitious and, at 663 pages in the Loyola Classics edition I read, longest works of fiction. Published in 1990, the novel follows the life of Frank Healy from when he was a junior in high school in the small town of “Linden Falls, Minnesota” in 1949, his becoming a Catholic priest in his 20s, the complicated on-and-off friendship over three decades with adolescent love Libby Girard, and the culmination of the novel’s events during their 44th year in 1977. Besides being a carefully constructed character study of Healy, Girard, and several other characters, the novel comments on American small-town life in the 1940s and 1950s. For instance, gender roles were much more rigid then than now, although there is plenty of social demarcation of the sexes even into the 21st century. “In those postwar years,” Hassler writes, “there was a militant code of behavior among the men and boys of Linden Falls: males did masculine things and avoided doing feminine things. Men drove cars, they did not ride in cars with women at the wheel. Men did not talk about beauty, illness, or babies. In their early teens boys abandoned all sissified activities such as reading books for pleasure and taking piano lessons and went out for sports.” In the early part of the novel, Hassler honestly describes the awkwardness, self-doubt, shyness, and loneliness often endured by boys and girls in high school. Besides battling these emotions, the young and inexperienced people in the novel make decisions that profoundly affect the rest of their lives – even if they don’t know it at the time. Only later in life do the two central characters of “North of Hope,” Libby and Frank, begin to realize what decisions have been important, and which of those decisions were wise and those not. They recognize the missed opportunities of their past – and fight being overwhelmed by regret. The past cannot be changed, they learn. Like people in real life, Libby and Frank must face and accept the consequences of their teenage beliefs and actions and, just as importantly, actions not taken. Frank’s and Libby’s struggle with past decisions and the realization of early-life ignorance reaches a climax during a lunch together at the Bavarian Wursthaus in “Berrington, Minnesota” when they were in their 40s. The revelations are startling. Libby tells Frank that he had “good looks” in high school. “‘Good looks?’ Frank seemed surprised. “‘Oh, Frank, you’re so innocent. You had no idea, did you, that you could have had any girl you wanted simply by giving her the time of day. You were the Gregory Peck of Linden Falls. …’” Later, Frank reveals, “‘I couldn’t imagine you being my girlfriend in those days, because you were too beautiful.’ “‘I wasn’t.’ “‘I swear to God. Beauty I somehow didn’t deserve.’” Hope is one of the themes of the novel and gives the novel its title. Frank and Libby, in their own ways, battle self-recrimination and despair. Near the conclusion of the book, Libby confides to Frank, “‘It’s like hope doesn’t reach this far north.’ “‘But it does, Libby. Hope goes wherever you want it to.’” As with his short stories and other novels, Hassler showcases in “North of Hope” everyday people whom you could meet at the neighborhood grocery store. They may be called everyday people, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have lives that are fascinating and instructive, especially when told by a master storyteller like Hassler.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. “When you love people, you want to take them into your soul. You want them to know what you’re like. So you make them feel like shit because then they’ll understand how you feel.” Mixed feelings with this one. I was immediately intrigued because I love his writing. His style is unique and I love reading it. The characters are sweet and the emotions are relatable. As the story progressed, I grew less interested in the characters. I became almost annoyed with them, so many of them were making wrong “When you love people, you want to take them into your soul. You want them to know what you’re like. So you make them feel like shit because then they’ll understand how you feel.” Mixed feelings with this one. I was immediately intrigued because I love his writing. His style is unique and I love reading it. The characters are sweet and the emotions are relatable. As the story progressed, I grew less interested in the characters. I became almost annoyed with them, so many of them were making wrong choices and lying and running away from things. A depressing undertone to every thing started to take over and slowly by the end it had ruined the story. The story felt too long, dragged out where it maybe should’ve been shorter. I held on to the hope that at the end, he would realize his mom hadn’t said she wanted him to be a priest, and that would be his sign to finally go and love Libby, but he didn’t, so the ending disappointed me and made me almost resent reading such a long book. The Hassler writing kept the book enjoyable for me at least. I’ll never stop enjoying his style.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Frank struggles with the last words of his Mom on her dying breath, told by Eunice that she wanted Frank to become a Priest. He has strong feelings for a woman for most of his life, and his love tested after she has divorced her first husband, raised a troubled child, outlasted another husband, and then has a troubled life with a third husband who is a doctor, a drunkard, and a drug pusher. Frank is the rock for this family and for the town of Basswood--a poor Indian Reservation. Although, this Frank struggles with the last words of his Mom on her dying breath, told by Eunice that she wanted Frank to become a Priest. He has strong feelings for a woman for most of his life, and his love tested after she has divorced her first husband, raised a troubled child, outlasted another husband, and then has a troubled life with a third husband who is a doctor, a drunkard, and a drug pusher. Frank is the rock for this family and for the town of Basswood--a poor Indian Reservation. Although, this is a less than happy story, it is of redemption. It was slow going at first, the story takes ...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dlp32

    I agree that at times this book could be a bit slow moving. But what I enjoyed most is that it made me feel like I was right there. I could picture the the small town life in Minnesota. I know it was a bit depressing. But isn’t that just how some people’s lives go. They couldn’t but any good luck. I really liked this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    My husband had read this book and thought i might enjoy it. I did not. Very, very slow and couldn't wait for the book to be finished. And it's huge. But saw it through to the end. Don't plan to read this author again. My husband had read this book and thought i might enjoy it. I did not. Very, very slow and couldn't wait for the book to be finished. And it's huge. But saw it through to the end. Don't plan to read this author again.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary Havenor

    Really enjoyed this story and that fact that the story was placed in northern Minnesota where I am from made it even more enjoyable.i have just discovered this author and would like to read more of his books.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    Well written, kept me engaged all the way through - with a few surprises at the end. Hassler always wrote with compassion and love for humankind.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Reed Johnson

    An interesting Catholic tale.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Merna Malmberg

    It would have been a great book, but way to much information....the book just dragged along. If I could have done 2.5 stars I would have.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dsolove

    This is a terrific book on many levels. The characters are unique but wholly believable. The dialogue is so believable that I started wondering if the author followed people around and recorded them! This is fiction at its best. I believed that all of these folks really existed and maybe they did or they were an amalgam of real people. I was so sorry to finish it and will be looking at my library for some of Hassler's books that I missed. I found this one at a second-hand store and remembered re This is a terrific book on many levels. The characters are unique but wholly believable. The dialogue is so believable that I started wondering if the author followed people around and recorded them! This is fiction at its best. I believed that all of these folks really existed and maybe they did or they were an amalgam of real people. I was so sorry to finish it and will be looking at my library for some of Hassler's books that I missed. I found this one at a second-hand store and remembered reading some of his other novels at least 2 decades ago -- yes, it is THAT good.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John

    "North of Hope" was recommended to me by a state health official. I was interviewing him about why the suicide rate is higher in Northeastern Minnesota than in the rest of the state. He asked me if I had read "North of Hope." I hadn't. The answer was in there, he suggested. So I went to my library to find it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that "North of Hope" was a work of fiction. It never occurred to me that state health officials read fiction. It turns out that it was Jon Hassler's sixth n "North of Hope" was recommended to me by a state health official. I was interviewing him about why the suicide rate is higher in Northeastern Minnesota than in the rest of the state. He asked me if I had read "North of Hope." I hadn't. The answer was in there, he suggested. So I went to my library to find it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that "North of Hope" was a work of fiction. It never occurred to me that state health officials read fiction. It turns out that it was Jon Hassler's sixth novel, set in far northern Minnesota, beginning in about 1950 and ending in the 1970s. Curiously, Hassler's far northern Minnesota has corn and grain elevators and farmers along with the jackpines. I don't know where in far northern Minnesota this would be -- certainly not in Northeastern Minnesota, where we only grow wild rice and timber. The central characters are juniors in high school when the book begins. We have Frank, a boy who sees his life through movies even though he is only allowed to go to carefully selected movies. And we have Libby, a girl whose dysfunctional family has just moved up from Minneapolis and whose main goal is to marry young and start a dysfunctional family of her own. (She succeeds.) Libby chooses Frank to be her backup boyfriend. This is not the role Frank has chosen for himself in the movie reel of his mind. But he's thinking of entering the priesthood anyway, so he accepts his role with good grace, for the most part. (He enters the priesthood.) They meet again on an Indian reservation in the '70s. The plot thickens from there, but I can't tell you anymore without getting slapped with a spoiler alert. I'm not sure that "North of Hope" answers the question of why the suicide rate is higher in Northeastern Minnesota. It seems to me the things that happen in this book could happen anywhere, with some variations for more moderate climates. Granted, American Indians face some unique challenges. But although Hassler certainly doesn't idealize the Ojibway in this book, he also doesn't picture them as any worse off -- at least in terms of mental health and chemical dependency -- than most of his other characters. It's certainly a lively but thoughtful tale with many layers. It's an easy read, even though the subject matter is grim. You're surprised to find yourself on Page 150 because the last you checked you were on Page 120. Three caveats: 1. At times, particularly in the earlier chapters, some of the dialogue seems unlikely to me. 2. Even though it is an easy read, I think "North of Hope" is a bit longer than it needed to be. For example, I don't think we needed to follow Father Frank on his rounds with the shut-ins. 3. There is too much sex. I define "too much sex" as anything beyond a chaste kiss. I will say that Hassler captures the hopeless feeling almost everyone in the North gets at a certain point in the winter. Consider Libby's thoughts on Page 222 in the edition I read. She has just driven straight through from Chicago back to the reservation after Christmas. She is thinking about her current husband, Tom, whose drunkenness is one of his nicer qualities; and her manic-depressive woman-child of a daughter, Verna: Libby hung up, switched off her lamp, and lay in the dark with her eyes open, paralyzed. Seven hundred miles of highway. Ten years of Verna's mood swings. Twelve years of Tom's drinking. Seven months of jackpines. Eighteen below and falling.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I like Jon Hassler's writing but felt this book wasn't as good as others he has written. No matter which book he has written they are all worth reading. I like Jon Hassler's writing but felt this book wasn't as good as others he has written. No matter which book he has written they are all worth reading.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel M

    Frank Healy grows up in the shadow of his mother's death, reminded frequently of her deathbed wish, "I want Frank to be a priest." His life afterward is marked for the priesthood. When he meets Libby Girard, however, his heart tells him something different. Walking to school each day, their friendship soon grows to love, even as Libby dates other men. It is upset only when Libby marries her high-school boyfriend after discovering she is pregnant. Frank goes on to become a priest. Twenty-three Frank Healy grows up in the shadow of his mother's death, reminded frequently of her deathbed wish, "I want Frank to be a priest." His life afterward is marked for the priesthood. When he meets Libby Girard, however, his heart tells him something different. Walking to school each day, their friendship soon grows to love, even as Libby dates other men. It is upset only when Libby marries her high-school boyfriend after discovering she is pregnant. Frank goes on to become a priest. Twenty-three years later, Frank, suffering from the "big leak" of a vocational crisis, returns to his hometown, assigned to replace the aging pastor. Here he finds Libby again, married for the third time to a drug-dealing doctor, and living in the wake of a tempestuous daughter. Her unhappiness leads her to seek out the only man who ever treated her with respect and true love, and Frank struggles to find a way to love Libby while remaining true to his priestly vocation. This book conveys struggle and the human condition very well. Frank, now middle-aged, must reconcile with the fact that he entered a vocation more from his mother's wish than from hearing a call. Libby, on the other hand, finds that the world she has built for herself echoes her own dysfunctional upbringing in an alcholic home, and is not the life she was truly meant to live. What do you do when you find that you made the wrong decision, and that this decision has affected everything? Do you seek escape from the path you are on, or do you accept the decision you made and live with it? While knowing what the high road ought to be, it is our nature to seek the path of least resistence, the path of least suffering, and this is where our struggle comes from: a struggle Jon Hassler portrayed skillyfully in North of Hope.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie Griffin

    I read this book for my book club or otherwise I would have stopped reading it. The writing is fine, not dazzling but fine, but this is the most depressing book I believe I have ever read, next to Purple Hibiscus. A young boy in a small town in Northern Minnesota loses his mother and is led to believe her dying words were for him to become a priest, so he does, despite having feelings for a high school classmate who has just moved into town. Neither of them end up happily. The priest becomes a d I read this book for my book club or otherwise I would have stopped reading it. The writing is fine, not dazzling but fine, but this is the most depressing book I believe I have ever read, next to Purple Hibiscus. A young boy in a small town in Northern Minnesota loses his mother and is led to believe her dying words were for him to become a priest, so he does, despite having feelings for a high school classmate who has just moved into town. Neither of them end up happily. The priest becomes a drunkard, although he still has some redeeming qualities. The girl ends up pregnant, married, leaves when her child is three, asks the priest to leave and marry her, he declines, she marries for a second time, the second husband abuses her daughter, and it goes on from there to a dreadful third marriage as well. There are deaths, sexual abuse, dementia, strokes, aging, loneliness, doubts... the only thing missing is much joy or happiness. I don't believe every book must be happy, indeed these can be some of the worst books in existence, but unremitting grimness is not wonderful either, especially when it is not balance out by singing prose such as Kite Runner. Hassler writes well enough, and the book does give a realistic view of small towns and Indian reservations in Minnesota. It might be your cup of tea, it just was not mine.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Thomas M.

    "Hassler's brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless." -Richard Russo "Hassler's brilliance has always been his ability to achieve the depth of real literature through such sure-handed, no-gimmicks, honest language that the result appears effortless." -Richard Russo

  23. 4 out of 5

    JodiP

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is the second book I've read by Hassler; I began with Staggerford which I recall I liked quite a bit. So, this thing clocks in at 673 pages. I got to about 150, and thought, Christ, what more can be said about these people? Either Libby and Frnak finally get together or they don't. Does it really take 450 pages to find out? Also, I found the idea of another 450 pages of Libby's and her family's dysfunction too depressing to contemplate. Another 150? Sure, maybe. So, I skipped to the last 7 This is the second book I've read by Hassler; I began with Staggerford which I recall I liked quite a bit. So, this thing clocks in at 673 pages. I got to about 150, and thought, Christ, what more can be said about these people? Either Libby and Frnak finally get together or they don't. Does it really take 450 pages to find out? Also, I found the idea of another 450 pages of Libby's and her family's dysfunction too depressing to contemplate. Another 150? Sure, maybe. So, I skipped to the last 7 pages. Libby's husband dies, found in the trunk of his car. Frank's "big leak" resolves, and he can be a priest. (Whew!) Libby and Frank decide they have a higher type of love. Libby's daughter seems to straighten out and get to college. Libby moves away from "the north." Speaking as a Minnesotan, I think she would have just said, "Here," because people from up north don't really think of themselves as from up north. This is alll very disappointing, because of course Hassler's writing is so good. He captures scene, place, and the inner sense of being of hischaractes so well. So, I'll read more by him, but will pass this by. I have a book on corvids and one on colonial merchant women waiting for me, so I think I'll move on.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    The more I read Hassler, the more impressed I am with his work. For whatever reason, I always enter a Hassler novel somewhat hesitantly, but I always come out feeling good about the work, writing, and people. This was one of the longer works I've read by Hassler, and it held me entirely through the read. I was captivated by the story of Frank Healy as a boy. His passion for the attractive, popular girl and his inability to act on it, was so spot on, it was easy to believe that Jon Hassler drew o The more I read Hassler, the more impressed I am with his work. For whatever reason, I always enter a Hassler novel somewhat hesitantly, but I always come out feeling good about the work, writing, and people. This was one of the longer works I've read by Hassler, and it held me entirely through the read. I was captivated by the story of Frank Healy as a boy. His passion for the attractive, popular girl and his inability to act on it, was so spot on, it was easy to believe that Jon Hassler drew on his own experiences. Following Frank Healy as he grew older and grew into being a priest was a remarkable journey. There was a part of me that hoped for a particular direction in the novel, but another part of me that was glad it took the high road and stayed on its course (forgive the ambiguity ... I try not to reveal spoilers). Yet despite all of this, the enjoyable read, the high road, the strength of the characters, etc, I can't help shake the feeling that this thick novel was missing something. When I closed the covers for the last time, I thought, 'Very nice. But what's the point?'

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This was a long novel. IMHO it drags on a bit longer than essential. Hassler does a good service in showing not telling a picture of his main characters. The sense of place, setting, is overpowering, enough to scare people away from Minnesota with the 20 below depictions of endless winter. Some of the characters, Libby in particular, verge on soap opera melodramatic. As an adult child of an alcoholic, she understandably has some "issues". However, I feel she never got over her need for approval, This was a long novel. IMHO it drags on a bit longer than essential. Hassler does a good service in showing not telling a picture of his main characters. The sense of place, setting, is overpowering, enough to scare people away from Minnesota with the 20 below depictions of endless winter. Some of the characters, Libby in particular, verge on soap opera melodramatic. As an adult child of an alcoholic, she understandably has some "issues". However, I feel she never got over her need for approval, adoration, and teeters on narcissism and exhibitionism. She appears very needy throughout the book. I like that self doubt on life path figures in as a theme for Fr. Healy. That's a "welcome to my life" for so many of us. Truthfully I would struggle to really like both Libby and Frank. One of the sweetest characters for me was the Monsignor. I would 'break bread' and chat with such a lovely compassionate soul anytime.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    This is a beautifully written book, and it's an absorbing tale I looked forward to getting back to every time I had to put it aside, but it's not without its frustrations. Fairly early on--page 59, to be exact--I mentally threw the book across the room when young Libby, afraid of going home and seeking merely a safe haven, asks Frank if she could just sit in a chair in his house for a while, but he leaves her stranded--or worse, he sneaks away in the night, leaving her talking to the river. Ugh. This is a beautifully written book, and it's an absorbing tale I looked forward to getting back to every time I had to put it aside, but it's not without its frustrations. Fairly early on--page 59, to be exact--I mentally threw the book across the room when young Libby, afraid of going home and seeking merely a safe haven, asks Frank if she could just sit in a chair in his house for a while, but he leaves her stranded--or worse, he sneaks away in the night, leaving her talking to the river. Ugh. Such a disappointing scene. But, hey, "Thorn Birds" this clearly is not. Hassler clearly had something higher in mind, and even though it feels like he achieved it, I was, in the end, left wanting more. First line: "Frank first laid eyes on Libby Girard at the Sunday matinee a minute before the lights went down."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

    I had difficulty deciding between 3 and 4 stars for this book. It's very compelling, absorbing, depressing, and uplifting all at once. Characters with a lot of texture, and some with depth, although not as much depth as I would have hoped. A close examination of some parts of life, presented with feeling but not sugar-coating. I felt as if I were living in northern Minnesota, shivering and shaking most of the time with cold and beholding gray as far as the eye and heart could see. A realistic en I had difficulty deciding between 3 and 4 stars for this book. It's very compelling, absorbing, depressing, and uplifting all at once. Characters with a lot of texture, and some with depth, although not as much depth as I would have hoped. A close examination of some parts of life, presented with feeling but not sugar-coating. I felt as if I were living in northern Minnesota, shivering and shaking most of the time with cold and beholding gray as far as the eye and heart could see. A realistic ending -- again, likely not what some readers would want, but believable and leaves one thinking and wondering. Some most memorable characters and very nicely written. I want my sister Jinny to read this!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I read this for my book club and I probably would not have selected to read for myself. The characters in North of Hope are complex and well developed but overall it was hard for me to relate to them, to like them, to care about them, or even to feel compassion for them. The plot seemed burdened and would have benefited from more editing to pare it down to the essentials. As it is, the plot rambles and becomes tedious at times. This book reminded me of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCul I read this for my book club and I probably would not have selected to read for myself. The characters in North of Hope are complex and well developed but overall it was hard for me to relate to them, to like them, to care about them, or even to feel compassion for them. The plot seemed burdened and would have benefited from more editing to pare it down to the essentials. As it is, the plot rambles and becomes tedious at times. This book reminded me of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I really like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but it is not a light read. North of Hope was also not a light read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lilian

    Jon Hassler is the type of writer whose books I will collect obsessively because their stories are just really good. I had done it with Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler, so it was amusing when one review said that Mr Hassler was the male Anne Tyler. I have to admit my cheesy,romantic side was kinda hoping the major characters would be able to get back together, despite everything. But Life has her own way of dealing with things, so just have to take it at that. This has become my second favorite Ha Jon Hassler is the type of writer whose books I will collect obsessively because their stories are just really good. I had done it with Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler, so it was amusing when one review said that Mr Hassler was the male Anne Tyler. I have to admit my cheesy,romantic side was kinda hoping the major characters would be able to get back together, despite everything. But Life has her own way of dealing with things, so just have to take it at that. This has become my second favorite Hassler novel.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marjorie Campbell

    Hassler tells a good story. A very long story - with characters who vary dramatically from realistic to silly caricature. I almost quit the book somewhere in the 300-400 page range. But I am glad I did not. I did enjoy the story line as it unfolded, despite disappointment with stereotypes and a rather simplistic good-bad dichotomy. I found the writing rather flat and technical, but it moved along. For me, there was a naivete about the female characters which was uncomfortable. I would recommend Hassler tells a good story. A very long story - with characters who vary dramatically from realistic to silly caricature. I almost quit the book somewhere in the 300-400 page range. But I am glad I did not. I did enjoy the story line as it unfolded, despite disappointment with stereotypes and a rather simplistic good-bad dichotomy. I found the writing rather flat and technical, but it moved along. For me, there was a naivete about the female characters which was uncomfortable. I would recommend the novel with proper caveats!

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