Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

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A Northern Light
by Jennifer Donnelly
389 pages
Library
YA Historical Fiction
2003

Book Jacket Summary
Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.

My Thoughts
This book is a lot more than looking at the events that took place at Big Moose Lake in 1906 but an introspective of Mattie and the choices she must make in life. The story is not told in chronological order but rather divided between her work at Glenmore and her life on her family farm earlier in the year. Mattie is entrusted with the letters of Grace Brown, who has died in a boating accident but is unable to burn the letters as Grace requested. Instead she finds a heart wrenching story of a pregnant girl who wants her lover to do the right thing in marrying her. Mattie also explores her life on the family farm and her dreams of becoming a writer.
This book is layered perfectly with the country feel and dreams of a girl who is smarter than the people around her. She wants a chance to explore her mind and make observations of the world, to make a difference. Instead, she is expected to marry, rear children, and continue working the farm.
The side characters are well explored too and your never feel like they are just thrown together. Miss Wilcox is the teacher who wants her to succeed at being an author and pushes her to leave and take the scholarship to college. She has her own story but I do not want to ruin it for those who want to read about her. Weaver is her best friend and also a recipient of a scholarship to college but has difficulty being the only black man in the Adirondack town. He is faced with discrimination but also has the drive to continue hos studies and become a lawyer that helps those in need.  
This book works on so many levels and I highly recommend it to those who love historical fiction. It is well researched and it feels like you have stepped into the early 1900's. Mattie's struggle to make a choice between a home and family or perusing her dreams is a real struggle. You are almost unsure of what her decision will be but you know that she is a strong character and will make the right choice for herself. Jennifer Donnelly has not let me down after reading Revolution and I am torn to decide which one I like more. She tackles such hard subjects and this book was so good.

Book Pairings
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
An American Tragedy by
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

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