It's told from a young girl's perspective - and centers around her life growing up and a tragedy at a camp she works at in the upstate New York - set around the same events that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. It's meant to be a young adults book (winning the Borders Original Voices Award in 2004), but as an adult I enjoyed it too - Donnelly did a fantastic job with the language of the book!
A coming of age story wrapped around a real life mystery from 1906. It's beautifully written. Even though she has a chance to go to college, the main character is an aspiring writer trapped in her life by a promise to her dying mother to take care of her father and siblings. She had a habit of learning a new word every day from her dictionary. I loved how those words played into the storyline. Highly recommended book.
The murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser to write "An American Tragedy" serves as background to this wonderful young adult novel by Jennifer Donnelly.
Set amongst the Adirondacks in Upstate New York at the turn of the (20th) century, it's a delightful novel about a young girl who discovers that dreams do come true. A little bit of mystery, a bit of history and young romance are woven into this fantastic story that had me reading it cover to cover in one sitting.
The book jumps back and forth between two different times, which had me a little confused a points, especially as the two times began to converge. Keep in mind: Mattie is working at the hotel the summer she is 16, turning 17. The rest of the book takes place earlier that winter/spring, and on into summer, until the backstory catches up. Grace dies AFTER the 4th of July, and all of the narration surrounding her covers only a day or two.
While this is a 'youth' book, I agree with a previous poster that it's good for adults and mature teens. There was more sex, swearing, and bordering-on-crude parts than I would want my pre-teen to read. For instance, there was a paragraph or two on menstration in a pre-Kotex era. In another part, Mattie catches a neighbor having an affair with another woman. She describes his backside in detail.
Touching, a book filled with understanding and empathy. The central character decides for herself what is most important in her life. Jennifer Donnelly is rapidly becoming my favorite author. I am looking forward to her next novel, Wild Rose.
A NORTHERN LIGHT is beautifully written, an engrossing historical fiction for those who do not like historical fiction very much. All of the characters in the story become real to us, and we will find ourselves cheering for Mattie to succeed. I highly recommend this book to anyone.
I absolutely, positively loved and adored this book! It takes place in the early twentieth century where a young woman, Mattie Gokey, is torn between helping her struggling family after her mother's death and her brother's abandonment, and following her own dreams of going to college and becoming a writer.
The characters in this novel were fleshed out and very realistic. The plot was great and Donnelly's writing style is excellent. Despite the fact that the plot wasn't "action packed," Donnelly's writing style, plot, and vivid descriptions made this book a page turner for me.
The novel is geared towards young adults, but the author doesn't talk down to the reader at all. She introduces the reader to new words throughout the story. Mattie has a tradition of picking a new word from her mother's old dictionary every day, learning it and trying to use it in a sentence. You might think this would come off as forced, but not at all. It flows very well with the rest of the book. Donnelly also doesn't shy away from adult situations. I don't mean there are graphic sex scenes, instead Donnelly tackles a scene of childbirth and nursing that are not toned down and I think that was a positive part of the novel.
The main theme in the novel is girl-power and for a character from 1906 that is a big deal. Should Mattie get married, settle at sixteen, and help her family through their rough times? Or should Mattie go to college and become a writer and possibly never get married? These different aspects are explored throughout the novel and by the end, we have an answer that was not entirely predictable. There is also talk throughout the novel of "banned books" and books that Mattie's teacher lets her borrow that others deem inappropriate for young ladies. Today these books are classics and a major part of literature.
Overall, a great novel and I'm looking forward to reading more by Jennifer Donnelly.
Sometimes it's hard to write your comments about a book you like. That's what it was like for me with this one. I totally enjoyed the story and the heroine, Mattie. Mattie's experience in the hotel mirror one my own first job but that is where the similarities of our experiences end. Mattie loves to observe people and the lovely Grace Brown stimulates her imagination. She so wants to be a writer but finds herself hindered by a promise she made to her mother as she lay on her death bed. Mattie promised to take care of her father and siblings.
Donnelly bases the story on a real murder - that of Grace Brown, whose death occurred July 11, 1906. Digging into archives and whatever sources she can find, Donnelly weaves a most interesting story with characters the reader can understand. Mattie is a fictional but she could have existed and could have felt the same feelings that are described in this novel. The author found that the more she learned about Grace Brown the more she was drawn to her tragic story. This is a haunting read that makes one want to go back for more. More about Grace Brown. More about Mattie. Maybe there will be more some day. Maybe we'll meet Mattie in another book by this author. There is certainly opportunity to develop a series around this character.
From the back of the book:
"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 asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind the murder. - Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's 'An American Tragedy', this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original."
Somehow manages to flawlessly pull off several roles, being a coming-of-age drama, a feminist struggle, and intriguing mystery-adventure, all at once.
Mattie Gokey is fortunate enough to have discovered the great passion of her young life, writing. And her talent has even earned her the dazzling opportunity of a scholarship to Barnard. However, she feels reluctantly shackled to an unfulfilling and traditional rural life, caring for the family and boyfriend she loves but who all fail to understand or respect her desire to pursue a non-traditional female career. Money, too, is a concern, because if she can't afford to move to the city, the Barnard scholarship will do her little good. Before her eyes is the kind of fate that awaits her if she gives up her dreams, in the alternations of mild tranquility and miserable drudgery experienced by her best friend as she takes the socially accepted path and starts a new family in the country. In her corner is her schoolteacher mentor, quietly disapproved of by the country folk for being an independent and modern woman. When Mattie musters the courage to seize her fate by the horns, she finds herself drawn into the tragedy of another young woman whose life has been mysteriously and suddenly cut short.
The voice performance for this audio edition is really superb. The actress's voice has a wry warmth of expression in which the narrating character's alternating tones of sarcasm and compassion come across perfectly.
Surprisingly good read. I thought it would be a murder mystery, which I really don't enjoy, but that played a small role. It's mostly about Mattie, a smart girl who seems worn down by rural life, the demands of family, and expecatations of her community. Enjoyable read.
this is one of her first books I ever read and I could not put it down . I loved it and gave it to one of my neighbors and she moved away without returning it . sad that I lost it but I did very mucn enjoy this book and I am definitely a lover of words which played out a lot in this book definitely worth the read .
16 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 asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind the murder. Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tradgedy" this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original.