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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 i 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. Includes a reader's guide and an interview with the author.


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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 i 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. Includes a reader's guide and an interview with the author.

30 review for A Northern Light

  1. 4 out of 5

    karen

    this monday-morning float is for you, alfonso! oh, a northern light, you were way better than i expected. i used to get really angry at this book, because it would come up in resort all the time and some people would just shelve it in my section because it looks like a grown-up book, not like teen fiction, and i would always have to be yanking it off the shelves and saying "nooooo, you go downstairs!!" like shooing away a mischievous dog. while i was reading it, i loved it. a few days after, i am this monday-morning float is for you, alfonso! oh, a northern light, you were way better than i expected. i used to get really angry at this book, because it would come up in resort all the time and some people would just shelve it in my section because it looks like a grown-up book, not like teen fiction, and i would always have to be yanking it off the shelves and saying "nooooo, you go downstairs!!" like shooing away a mischievous dog. while i was reading it, i loved it. a few days after, i am aware of plenty of weak spots - underwritten parts, the ambition of too many storylines that maybe with a little pruning would have resulted in a fantastic book that i would want to read again and again. but maybe that is what teen fiction is - a stepping stone to truly great literature. i don't mean this to be disparaging (observe how i have grown in my teen fiction stance), but younger readers lack the literary scope of people who have been around the block a few times with a few books. their critical faculties are not as honed as more experienced readers, and so the soft spots an adult reader picks up on go unnoticed by younger readers who are carried away in the power of the narrative voice and the excitement of "what will happen next". and that is good enough, really, for teen literature - get them engaged in the text, get them hungry for reading, tell them a new and interesting story and teach them some new words along the way. i am totally content with that. mary k says, somewhat cynically, that books like these are written with the printz award in mind. this was in response, not to this book, but to marcelo in the real world, when i remarked that it would sell quite easily to an adult audience, so i wondered why it was being marketed at teen fiction. this book, as is, i think would not do so well as an adult-fiction title, but the care that went into writing it, and the multilayeredness of it - it is certainly more ambitious than many of the other titles intended for a teen audience, and i say "three cheers". the voice of this book is excellent. the main character is very well-drawn, for teen audience or otherwise. but tying together race issues, struggles with poverty, women's issues, a true crime story, and a family drama, just makes for a muddled focus, that you don't necessarily notice during the reading, but afterwards, there is a lot of, "hm, wonder what happened to thus-and-such". it's just too much content. i love that she based this whole story around the murder that inspired an american tragedy, but i think even without that storyline, this would have been a wonderful novel of a girl with aspirations above her gender and financial situation, torn between her family and her ambition, with a strong subplot about her best friend's struggles with racial inequality in his own life. done. call it a day. i did love the french canadian uncle (very very familiar voice there) - but many other elements seemed too fleeting. i would have liked more resolution with some of the storylines, but overall, this was a very fine novel, and i won't get mad if it tries to sneak onto my shelves again. i won't let it stay, but i won't frown at it, i will give it a soft, "oh, you scamp" kind of look... come to my blog!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aleeeeeza

    Last year, I used to go every day to the library of the bank where my dad works at (ain't that a mouthful or what?!)—I was homeschooled, and it was the perfect place to study for upcomin’ exams. There I stumbled upon a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version book, which basically features up to 4 abridged books in one volume, and one of the novels it featured was A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (which I later found out was called A Northern Light in the states). Since I am the queen of procrast Last year, I used to go every day to the library of the bank where my dad works at (ain't that a mouthful or what?!)—I was homeschooled, and it was the perfect place to study for upcomin’ exams. There I stumbled upon a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version book, which basically features up to 4 abridged books in one volume, and one of the novels it featured was A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (which I later found out was called A Northern Light in the states). Since I am the queen of procrastination, I began reading it and soon was so swept away by the beautiful story I couldn’t stop until I was finished. And when I did reached the ending, I loved it so much I was actually CRYING and doing my best not to cheer aloud since I was in, you know, a library. So when I got the chance to order some books from Amazon some time ago, I had only a quota of four books and I selected this one first-up. My sister was confused, since she couldn’t understand why I was ordering a novel I’d already read when I could order a new very-highly-anticipated one. That’s because I love this novel so much it was never even a question I’d get a copy for myself. And soon after it arrived, I began reading it, tossing away the resolution to not before exams (see, exams never seem to end in my life). It was just too tempting! And the book…WOW. The condensed version did NOT do it justice. Because I savored every single word of it and only fell even more in love with it, so much that it’s officially my No. 1 favorite book EVER, Hands. Down. And if you know me, you’ll know it’s not very easy to get that title. But that’s just my history with the book. And now I’ll review it, and hopefully I’ll do it justice so that you’ll go read and fall in love with it too. I mean, it DID win the Carnegie Medal, was a Michael L. Printz Honor book, and fetched numerous blurbs as well as starred reviews, which in itself makes it a must-read book. The first time I read this novel I was a bit puzzled by the simplicity of the prose. At that time, I believed you needed to use Big Words often to be a good writer (thank you, Steph Meyer!), and this novel barely employed any. And I was struck by how, despite this, the novel read so beautifully. And that’s when I learned that the best kind of writing is not the Overwrought Kind, but the one that seems utterly effortless. Mattie is a lover of all things literature, and you wouldn’t believe how well the author has incorporated this fact into the story. This book pretty much nails the rule of ‘show, not tell’. Every day Mattie learns a new word, its origins and all, and does her best to use it in that day. And a fellow word-lover meself (actually, I can safely bet that whoever’s reading this review is also fond of words, right?), I loooved this aspect. And you can see how much she loved words through the following passages: "Well, it seems to me that there are books that tell stories, and then there are books that tell truths...The first kind, they show you life like you want it to be. With villains getting what they deserve and the hero seeing what a fool he's been and marrying the heroine and happy endings and all that. Like Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion. But the second kind, they show you life more like it is. Like in Huckleberry Finn where Huck's pa is a no-good drunk and Jim suffers so. The first kind makes you cheerful and contented, but the second kind shakes you up... Why don't they tell the truth? Why don't they tell how a pigpen looks after the sow's eaten her children? Or how it is for a girl when her baby won't come out? Or that cancer has a smell to it? All those books...I bet not one of them will tell you what cancer smells like... I don't mean to be coarse. I just...I don't know why I should care what happens to people in a drawing room in London or Paris or anywhere else when no one in those places cares what happens to people in Eagle Bay." "I had looked around. I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest of days." "What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed." The setting is so, so vivid, and I felt as if I were really transported back to the early 1900s. In the same way, I felt like I personally knew every character. And their feelings! They all mirrored mine so perfectly it was almost creepy. Especially how bad Mattie's got it for Royal, her spankin’ good-looking neighbor, regardless of the fact that I knew how hopeless it was. I distinctly remember the first time round I read this book, how my heart both soared with hers and then came crashing down when things got rough. And it’s not just this: Mattie yearning to be both an educated woman and eventually an author, as well as have a family and a loving husband…it was so very relatable. Especially since I often go through the same dilemma, even in this day and age, thanks to the backward society I’m from. I remember this quote really affected me: And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn't have written even one poem if she'd had two howling babies, a husband bent on jamming another one into her, a house to run, a garden to tend, three cows to milk, twenty chickens to feed, and four hired hands to cook for. I knew then why they didn't marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn't want to be lonely my whole life. I didn't want to give up on my words. I didn't want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn't have to. Charles Dickens didn't. So, yeah, that’s my review. Jennifer Donnelly is now one of my all-time fave authors, and her novel Revolution also definitely deserves to be read. In fact, if you read both and compare then, you’ll be seriously shocked the same author penned both books. I mean, yes, they’re both at least partially historical, but that’s kind of as far as the similarities go.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The Hook - When I worked in the library I often recommended A Northern Light to older young adults or even adults looking for a good historical fiction book. Now mind you, librarians cannot read every book in a library but we pay attention to reviews, awards and patron comments. I had never read A Northern Light but could book talk it based on the above criteria and never heard any complaints. In fact most who had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly picked up The Tea Rose or other of her b The Hook - When I worked in the library I often recommended A Northern Light to older young adults or even adults looking for a good historical fiction book. Now mind you, librarians cannot read every book in a library but we pay attention to reviews, awards and patron comments. I had never read A Northern Light but could book talk it based on the above criteria and never heard any complaints. In fact most who had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly picked up The Tea Rose or other of her books that were written later. Now retired, my library held a Winter Reading Lingo. If you got a Lingo the library would donate 3 food items to our local soup kitchen. In addition they would add up to 5 other food items for books read. I was determined I would meet that goal but was having trouble getting the Lingo. All I needed to win was a YA book. A few weeks before this my Gr friend, Pamela had read and reviewed A Northern Light reminding me that I had always meant to read this. Once again, serendipity. The Line - ”Why isn’t real life like book life?” The Sinker A Northern Light is many things. What seemed the most important to me was following one’s dreams, having the fortitude to believe they can come true even under the most disheartening set backs. With the beautiful backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains in the year 1906, we find Mattie Gokey yearning for a life other than the one she is living. Her mother has passed away, her older brother has left home, her father is distant, and there are other younger siblings needing care and feeding. Mattie wants more than this dreary farm life as does her colored friend, Weaver. Together they share the love of words, choosing one new one each day to challenge the other. Somehow they both intend to wind their way to college, if only. While they are both working at the eloquent Glenmore on Big Moose Lake that summer, a young woman’s body is found drowned on its banks. It’s my hope that quoting the opening paragraph gives you a sample of the quality of the writing. Just lovely throughout. ”When summer comes to the North Woods, time slows down. And some days it stops altogether. The sky, gray and lowering for much of the year, becomes an ocean of blue, so vast and brilliant you can’t help but stop what you’re dong—pinning wet sheets to the line maybe, or shucking a bushel of corn on the back steps—to stare up at it. Locusts whir in the birches, coaxing you out of the sun and under the boughs, and the heat stills the air, heavy and sweet with the scent of balsam.” I listened and read A Northern Light and give high marks to the narrator Hope Davis for capturing the varied emotions of youth and giving voice to the many characters who comprise this gem. 4 shooting stars!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tabetha

    Rating: 4.5 Review: "Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every book in the Webster's Dictionary of the English language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get - a cold sick feeling deep down inside - when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will be a before and an after Rating: 4.5 Review: "Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every book in the Webster's Dictionary of the English language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get - a cold sick feeling deep down inside - when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were." This is the story of Mattie, sixteen years old, and full of the passion and need to express herself, to find her true voice, and to break out of the mold that could trap her into a role, of doing what others want for her. This historic YA novel, set in 1906, weaves in the true crime story of young and hopeful Grace Brown, who was cruelly drowned and murdered by her lover, and who left behind a legacy of love letters, so sad and tragic. Mattie is so deeply affected by this horrific event, that it changes her life's path and her dreams forever. I discovered this Printz Honor awarded novel when I was placing Jennifer Donnelly's newest novel "These Shallow Graves" on hold at the library. This is such a beautifully moving story, character driven, with so many different events happening, that I was very involved in this time period of 1905-1906, in the setting of the Adirondack Mountains. There are many deep elements at play, which include the racism of the time period, made all the more personal by Mattie's friend Weaver and his mother, who undergo such hardships, even though they are not, under any circumstances, slaves. There is the beauty of family, and there is also an ugliness that is portrayed, that can occur during times of extreme poverty. There is also the implication that young girls, especially those with little means, had a narrow choice of marrying, while University and careers were still a luxury that not many could afford. Mattie has such a tremendous desire to become a published writer, but her circumstances may prevent those dreams from ever coming to fruition. There are actually two stories of Mattie being told in alternating chapters: one when she comes face to face with Grace Brown's murder, and the next is told a year before, as Mattie attends school and helps her father out with her siblings and the farm. A sweet romance develops, which completely adds to the story, and gives Mattie a new way of looking at the world, of appreciating things other than bookish words and quotes. I highly recommend this coming of age mystery that adults and young adults alike will appreciate. A final quote from the incredible Jennifer Donnelly, "Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that come from your words."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    I rate one star not because "I didn't like it" but because there is a nauseating amount of this genre book in existence. The genre of a bookish, misunderstood girl who fights against the strictures of society so that she can be a liberated woman. The genre of book where the author tries to set the world straight on what a girl should do with her life and how she should be treated. The most galling is that the author writes the protagonist (Mattie) as disliking books with "happy endings" but then I rate one star not because "I didn't like it" but because there is a nauseating amount of this genre book in existence. The genre of a bookish, misunderstood girl who fights against the strictures of society so that she can be a liberated woman. The genre of book where the author tries to set the world straight on what a girl should do with her life and how she should be treated. The most galling is that the author writes the protagonist (Mattie) as disliking books with "happy endings" but then proceeds to write a happy ending for Mattie. If the author were to hold true to form Mattie would stay in her back woods home, marry the boy that loves her for the wrong reasons and learn how to deal with a lifetime of disappointment, crying children, and exhausting work. Now that is something worth reading and pondering on, like Willa Cather's O Pioneers where the protagonist makes peace with shattered expectations. The author of A Northern Light frequently conjured works of worthy literature as though she was trying to snare the reader into believing her book was similarly worthy, it wasn't. I'm still waiting for the book about the girl who wants the glory of the stars but chooses the drudgery of the earth, that will be a story worth reading.

  6. 5 out of 5

    LENA TRAK

    Sweet 16! (SPOILER) That book was a trip down memory lane. I had forgotten how it feels to be 16-17 and dream about the future. I remember myself growing up on a beautiful island with my family. I often seeked solitude and I always had a feeling I was supposed to live some place different. When I left the island I took all these memories and stories from home with me! Just like Mattie... Definitely a page-turner! "I believe these things. With all my heart. For I am good at telling myself lies." Sweet 16! (SPOILER) That book was a trip down memory lane. I had forgotten how it feels to be 16-17 and dream about the future. I remember myself growing up on a beautiful island with my family. I often seeked solitude and I always had a feeling I was supposed to live some place different. When I left the island I took all these memories and stories from home with me! Just like Mattie... Definitely a page-turner! "I believe these things. With all my heart. For I am good at telling myself lies."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Shores

    "Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original." I'm "borrowing" the blurb for this story for one reason... "Why?" you ask. Because this book was NOTHING like I thought it would be based on the summary. Now, that doesn't mean that I didn't love it, because I absolutely did. It just means that I thought t "Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original." I'm "borrowing" the blurb for this story for one reason... "Why?" you ask. Because this book was NOTHING like I thought it would be based on the summary. Now, that doesn't mean that I didn't love it, because I absolutely did. It just means that I thought the murder would be more integral to the story. "Wait!!! It was wholly integral to the story!" Yes, ultimately. But in a totally different way than I expected. And that, my friends, is what made this story so wonderful, "something moving, and real, and wholly original". Because, ultimately, this is simply the story of Mattie Gokey, a sixteen-year-old girl, the eldest of four daughters being "cared for" by a grieving father who lost the love of his life and is too lost in his grief to see that his girls are suffering as well. They live a "Little House on the Prairie" life, one where you get up with the chickens, never-ending chores are more important than education, and you all share an outhouse. It's also a time where many female authors were considered scandalous and their books, if you could get them, needed to be hidden. Mattie was born a writer through and through. Ms. Donnelly doesn't just tell us this, it is evident in the way that Mattie thinks and in most everything she says. And it is most evident in the way she sees the world. Mattie is a voracious reader—she even reads her beloved dictionary daily, giving us many words-of-the-day throughout the book and using them in various situations. She also "word duels" with her best friend, Weaver. She uses her words to describe the tragedy she sees all around her, although she does her best to not be weighed down by it. Above all esle, I found Mattie to be a pragmatist. Sure, she has hopes and dreams, ones she could only share with Weaver—who also had big dreams of becoming a lawyer, even though he was a black male in a time of extreme racial prejudice—because she knew that a girl in her situation had no business dreaming of becoming a writer in New York City. After all, she had promised her dying mother she would never leave and she had a duty to help her pa with the chores and with raising her younger sisters. The story that unfolds around these facts of life is sweet, poignant and real, just like Mattie herself. The way that she sees novels is all you need to know. "...there are books that tell stories and then there are books that tell truths. The first kind, they show you life like you want it to be with villians getting what they deserve and the hero seeing what a fool he's been and marrying the heroine and happy endings and all that. But the second kind, they show you life more like it is. The first kind makes you cheerful and contented but the second kind shakes you up." A Northern Light shows you "life more like it is". And, in this instance, it is a beautiful thing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    “I had looked around. I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pi “I had looked around. I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest of days.” Mattie’s voice is incredibly poetic and even the simplest descriptions can give goose bumps; however, I think it is also very important to note that her voice is not superfluous or affected. I never cringe with the insincerity of a passage or the discomfort of a moment heavy with artificial contrived descriptions. The story describes Mattie’s coming of age at the turn of the century, in a family of four girls who have just lost their mother to cancer and whose brother has run away. The backdrop of the narrative is the famous murder that also inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, although voice is only given to the murdered girl through letters she gave to Mattie and asked to burn. An overarching theme of the novel is the denial of this dead girl’s voice, the loss of her story through murder, and the impact this has on Mattie’s own life decisions. Mattie must decide between fulfilling her dying mother’s plea that she care for her little sisters, marrying the handsome young farmer, and accepting life forever in Herkimer County or going off alone to NYC in order to go to college. I also enjoyed this novel so much because all of the characters are fully realized and authentic. Mattie has two best friends, Weaver, the only black boy in the entire county and who also has a scholarship for college and Minnie, who has just married and is now pregnant. She also has a new teacher, Miss Wilcox, who supports Mattie’s writing with intensity, and has dark secrets of her own. What is wonderful about these characters is that they are not just props, they have their own conflicts and their own fears that Donnelly explores through the eyes of Mattie. Each of Mattie’s sisters has a personality that comes off the page; and her father is one of the strongest characters in the story. Every individual Mattie comes into contact with is a real person, and it makes the novel so much more meaningful. Even Mattie’s mother, who has died before the story begins, is given detail and life – she is not just a source of sadness or a plot device. One of my most favorite moments is when Mattie describes a special ritual just the two of them shared: "Sometimes she would pick a basketful of berries in the afternoon and set them, sun-warmed and fragrant, on the kitchen table, along with a dish of fresh cream and one of maple sugar. We would dip them first into the cream, then in the sugar, and then bite into them greedily. Somehow, they always tasted of more than themselves. They tasted like my pa whistling as he came in from the fields at night, or like a new calf getting to its feet for the first time, or like Lawton telling us ghost stories around the fire. I think that what they tasted of was happiness." (301) I just love the idea of tasting happiness, what could be lovelier?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    An excellent YA novel. It didn't make me bawl my eyes out however, therefore only 4 stars. Set in 1906, the book follows an important period in a 16-year old girl's life, when she faces the dilemma of what her future will be. Mattie is an aspiring writer and yearns to attend university, but her family responsibilities hinder her dreams. Will she choose to risk it all and try to find her own independence or will she succumb to her family's wishes and abandon her aspirations to instead become a fa An excellent YA novel. It didn't make me bawl my eyes out however, therefore only 4 stars. Set in 1906, the book follows an important period in a 16-year old girl's life, when she faces the dilemma of what her future will be. Mattie is an aspiring writer and yearns to attend university, but her family responsibilities hinder her dreams. Will she choose to risk it all and try to find her own independence or will she succumb to her family's wishes and abandon her aspirations to instead become a farmer's wife? A crime committed against a young woman might finally push Mattie to make this important choice. A Northern Light is an interesting blend of historical fiction, murder mystery, and commentary on sex, race, and social status at the beginning of the 20th century, but mainly this story is feminist at its core (but not in an "in-your-face"/bra-burning way). Ultimately, A Northern Light is about how limited life choices for women were and how hard it was to assert independence. It presents an honest portrayal of the positions women occupied a century ago, the hardships of their lives, the limitations of their freedoms, and the price they had to pay to pursue their dreams. I would recommend this book to any reader looking for a quality YA story that doesn't involve vampires, fairies, TSTL heroines and abusive boyfriends.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Keertana

    A Northern Light is one of those books you come across every few years; the type of novel that buries itself in your heart from the first page and simply lingers in your thoughts for days, weeks, and even months afterward. Although I've probably read at least two books and three novellas since I set this story down, it has still been in the forefront of my thoughts. I will likely tell my parents to yell at Jennifer Donnelly if they want someone to blame for my bad grades and sleepless nights. Af A Northern Light is one of those books you come across every few years; the type of novel that buries itself in your heart from the first page and simply lingers in your thoughts for days, weeks, and even months afterward. Although I've probably read at least two books and three novellas since I set this story down, it has still been in the forefront of my thoughts. I will likely tell my parents to yell at Jennifer Donnelly if they want someone to blame for my bad grades and sleepless nights. After all, how could I have done anything with my life until I knew what happened in Mattie's? And now how can I possible continue do anything without her voice by my side? It's the cruelest kind of paradox, one that only arrives when you love a protagonist as much as this one. Without a doubt, A Northern Light is very possibly the best book I've read - and will read - this year. Prior to having read A Northern Light, the only Donnelly novel I'd read was Revolution, which made me sit up till 3 AM wracked with sobs while I finished the book. Now, let me tell you, that was not a fun reading experience. I had swollen cheeks, red eyes, and an aching heart by the end of it. Needless to say, I more-or-less swore off of Donnelly after that. Any author whose words had that type of power over me was dangerous. Quite thankfully, though, a lovely review convinced me to pick this one up and I'm so very glad I did. A Northern Light is a quiet, unassuming sort of tale, one that is filled with courage and strength and hope instead of despair and death and loss. It isn't always a happy story, but it is a truthful one; it never glosses over the harsh realities of life, especially for women of the time, and it faithfully empowers women in a manner that is never overbearing, merely subtle. Donnelly's A Northern Light is told cleverly with two timelines neatly converging into one, creating an ending that is both satisfying and powerful. When the novel begins, the body of a drowned woman, Grace Brown, is found near the inn where Mattie works. Shortly before leaving for her boat ride, Grace gave Mattie a bundle of letters to burn, but just hours later, Grace herself is found dead. Mattie, suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death, begins to read the letters Grace gave her. As the contents of these letters are slowly revealed, so is Mattie. For every present-day chapter there are even more chapters from the past, not only detailing Mattie's journey but also showing who she really is. Mattie's story takes place in the early 1900s, a time when women were expected to run a household and raise a family. Mattie, however, yearns to attend college, despite the fact that her mother recently died and her father needs her help on their farm. Although there are many other responsibilities Mattie has, from the beginning itself it is hard not to root for her. After all, this is a protagonist whose love for language pushes her to learn a new word from the dictionary everyday. And though I regard A Northern Light to be a tale that empowers women and celebrates feminism, Mattie herself is no Alice Paul. Instead, what makes her such an endearing and unforgettable protagonist are, first and foremost, her passions and secondly, her own inner battles. While society pushes Mattie towards a life of love and comfort in a house with children, her own heart begins to push her that way too, which makes the decision to chase her dream that much more difficult. All the more, Mattie is not a perfect character. Although one of her best friends is an African American boy who is on his way to Columbia, Mattie doesn’t always treat her own family properly. In fact, these family dynamics are what make the novel so fascinating, what make us keep flipping these pages frantically. Will Mattie convince her father to allow her to go to college? Can the inspirational teacher Mattie had help her in this endeavor? Is Mattie really going to be tied down to her small town by a promise she once made to her dying mother? In such a subtle manner, Donnelly uses Mattie’s life to build her era. Instead of paragraphs of bland information, Mattie’s society is build around her and stems from her perceptions, making this the best kind of historical fiction there is – the kind that doesn’t feel like fiction at all. In all honesty, though, I can keep prattling on about this book for days if you’d allow me. Mattie is such a vivacious, strong, and courageous character that her story captures you from the beginning. You yearn for her to fulfill her dreams, for her to realize her true calling in life and pursue it despite what others may say. You begin to pray that she will somehow escape her small town and farm life. You keep the book aside and tie your hands behind your back because you don’t want to know what happens even though you really do, but you’re so very scared of the outcome. You begin to hope feverishly that her love for her family will not cause her to disregard her love for words; that she will finally gain the opportunity to do what she wants to do. It’s a beautiful book, the kind you’ll always carry around with you – in your heart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janina

    I don’t quite understand why this book hasn’t caught my attention earlier. It is excellently written, features a strong and likable heroine and perfectly captures her hopes and fears in an era so different to our own. It touches on a lot of issues – racial injustice, the situation of women at the beginning of the 20th century, poverty and family ties – and it does so in a very realistic way. It doesn’t look at things through rose-coloured glasses, and it certainly doesn’t offer an ending with a I don’t quite understand why this book hasn’t caught my attention earlier. It is excellently written, features a strong and likable heroine and perfectly captures her hopes and fears in an era so different to our own. It touches on a lot of issues – racial injustice, the situation of women at the beginning of the 20th century, poverty and family ties – and it does so in a very realistic way. It doesn’t look at things through rose-coloured glasses, and it certainly doesn’t offer an ending with a bow safely tied around all problems, but that is just the way I prefer endings with books like these. Life seldom offers cure-alls. At its core, though, this book is a book about women and the problems they faced, the restrictions imposed on them, the difficult decisions they had to make in order to fulfil their dreams and the consequences these decisions so often had. It follows Mattie, a sixteen-year-old girl dreaming of going to college in New York City and becoming a famous writer. Unfortunately, Mattie’s family situation doesn’t allow for dreams: Her mother died of cancer, her older brother has run away and her father has lost all his joy of living. Money is tight. Mattie is required to care for her younger sisters and help at the farm and expected to marry soon and become a farmer’s wife. Her father refuses to acknowledge the chances New York offers for her. Mattie is torn between wanting to be there for her family and wanting to make her dreams come true. Working at the Glenmore hotel gives her the chance to earn her tuition, but will she be able to leave everyone she loves behind? Told in alternating chapters – past and present merging towards the end (loved this style), A Gathering Light brilliantly captures the hopes and dreams of a young woman and the general feeling of the era and time. Mattie’s voice is spot on; the language is poetic but not overly so and evokes an overall feeling of nostalgia, of things ending, new ones beginning, of lost hopes and lost chances, with just the right amount of humour and lightness. The mystery revolving around a young woman drowning in the lake is not so much a mystery, but more so just the most important one of the many episodes Mattie encounters on her way that help her make her decision at the end. This book is not weighed down by an all-consuming love story, but I would have wished for the romance to be a bit more … romantic and for me to actually be involved in it. It is important to Mattie, but it was pretty clear for me as the reader that her choice would never make her happy – even if she wanted to believe otherwise. Random things I loved: Mattie’s word-of-the-day ritual and the "word wars" she fought with her friend Weaver, Cook the cook, Miss Wilcox’s library (so jealous) and the way the girls dealt with the guy from table six. Something I wanted to add: I've only read one other book by Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution, and it's amazing to see how different the two books are in voice. I loved both of them, but I really applaud Jennifer Donnelly for successfully capturing two heroines who are poles apart.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid

    A.k.a. A gathering light. On July 12, 1906, the body of a young woman named Grace Brown was pulled from the waters of Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. This is the fact on which the writer based her story of Mattie. A young girl from an agricultural background who met Grace Brown in the hotel where she worked. It's a well written, sweet story, despite the hardships. A.k.a. A gathering light. On July 12, 1906, the body of a young woman named Grace Brown was pulled from the waters of Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. This is the fact on which the writer based her story of Mattie. A young girl from an agricultural background who met Grace Brown in the hotel where she worked. It's a well written, sweet story, despite the hardships.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    3.5 stars. Hope Davis narrates audio book (8h 49m) Jennifer Donnelly's historical fiction/romance books for YA readers are always a real treat. Her female characters tend to be determined, strong-willed, and bookish. In "A Northern Light" we are taken into the rural life of one girl in 20th century America. Sixteen year old Mattie Gokey dreams of a life beyond her vacation resort town and the life of a writer in New York City. But Mattie 's widowed father, her little sisters, and her first love a 3.5 stars. Hope Davis narrates audio book (8h 49m) Jennifer Donnelly's historical fiction/romance books for YA readers are always a real treat. Her female characters tend to be determined, strong-willed, and bookish. In "A Northern Light" we are taken into the rural life of one girl in 20th century America. Sixteen year old Mattie Gokey dreams of a life beyond her vacation resort town and the life of a writer in New York City. But Mattie 's widowed father, her little sisters, and her first love all question why Mattie wouldn't just be content to do her duty to her family. But as Mattie views different relationships between the women and men around her, she begins to question what type of path that she wants to choose for herself. It is also into this story that the body of a female guest at the hotel where Mattie works is found and this becomes one of the many threads of the book. This vein could have been explored much more quickly because it wasn't much of a mystery to me. Donnelly's strength is truly the characters in her stories. Coupled with the superb talents of Hope Davis on the audio, I felt that I "knew" each of these characters so very well and came to care for them in much the same way that Mattie did. Mattie, herself, is incredibly naive as a reader would expect from a girl in the early 1900's. Lastly, I really enjoyed the "title " dropping of dozens of books. Maybe, just maybe, we will eventually get a sequel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Grace drowned in Big Moose Lake betrayed by love. Mattie drowning in responsibility and weighed down by her sense of duty and others' expectations. Weaver choking on prejudice and small mindedness. Emily fighting to break the surface of her own stifling marriage. Using the framework of the drowning of a young woman in 1906 Jennifer Donnelly gathers up the threads and images present in a poor close knit farming community in the Adirondacks and uses it like a loom to weave together a complex patte Grace drowned in Big Moose Lake betrayed by love. Mattie drowning in responsibility and weighed down by her sense of duty and others' expectations. Weaver choking on prejudice and small mindedness. Emily fighting to break the surface of her own stifling marriage. Using the framework of the drowning of a young woman in 1906 Jennifer Donnelly gathers up the threads and images present in a poor close knit farming community in the Adirondacks and uses it like a loom to weave together a complex pattern in which oppression and repression intermingle with ambition and vision. The oppression of racism is addressed not just in terms of violent brutality or patronizing conversations but its knock on effect on dashed hopes and impoverished ambition. The tyranny of the powerful and influential where subservience, the norm in so many relationships whether marriage, employer/employee, tenant farmer and owner, results in dreams having to be curtailed. The gloom of the crippling effect of poverty which can lead to a hopelessness where your sense of self-worth disappears and anything goes if it will keep 'the wolf from the door' and then over-arching the whole novel, or perhaps underlying it as the unspoken ground of everything, is duty and responsibility. What can be expected of a person? what should be expected of a person? Promises made to the dying or the dead; how should these be fulfilled ? Do the needs and desires of others supersede your deepest hopes and dreams? When do childish imaginings stop being so and become reaonable ambitions and how can you tell ? Must you take the tapestry you have woven with care and talent and unpick its beauty simply because others tell you such a tapestry is a waste of thread and they declare your image of beauty to be mistaken and foolish. Mattie is a great character. Plain and poor but charged with her own special beauty and her own drive to speak out with her own voice. Words are her life; she loves them, she explores them. Each day she learns a new word and with Weaver,her friend, she plays a wonderfully simple game in which they do battle firing associated words back and forth. However it is the written words of the drowned girl, her love letters entrusted to Mattie, that prove the great catalyst for Mattie's inner struggle. As Mattie uncovers the tragic past of Grace it shines an inescapable light into her own future. There are an enormous number of plot strands here, perhaps slightly too many but they do, in the main, gel together and are all intertwined. Some of the characters seem less well drawn than others and some of the plot movements are contrived and awkward but it is an enthralling read. It is written for young adults and is another of those novels which i can see, in the hands of a clever teacher, could be a great leaping off point for all sorts of reflection and debate. Aside from that anyway it is just a good story and the fact that the tragic Grace, dead when the novel strarts, is a real-life character just adds to its sadness and effect.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I love books about booklovers. I love the feeling of connection that I have with people who appreciate books and words the same way that I do. I felt this especially with Mattie, because she loves words and language and writing, but doesn't know exactly how to use those words... they are just built up inside her, preparing her for when she will be able to express herself. When I started this book, I wasn't sure if I would Love it (with a capital "L") as some of my friends here Loved it. It is ve I love books about booklovers. I love the feeling of connection that I have with people who appreciate books and words the same way that I do. I felt this especially with Mattie, because she loves words and language and writing, but doesn't know exactly how to use those words... they are just built up inside her, preparing her for when she will be able to express herself. When I started this book, I wasn't sure if I would Love it (with a capital "L") as some of my friends here Loved it. It is very beautifully written, and the descriptions of Mattie's life are poetic, yet very bare and simple. About halfway through, I found myself turning the pages almost without realizing it. Somewhere along the line, I went from saying, "Yes, this is a nice coming-of-age story" to forgetting it was a story at all. And it is very nice to be sucked into a book like that. The characters are wonderfully real. Mattie is the awkward "eldest" child for all intents and purposes (which makes me think of certain unlucky eldest child and all her adventures chasing after a moving castle... but that's another story entirely), and is forced into a position of grudging submission to a promise she made her dying mother to stay and take care of her family. Doing this means denying the very essence of who Mattie is and all of her dreams and aspirations and goals. Weaver, I must say, is my favorite character. I loved him from the moment I met him out-wording Mattie in the field and getting to read The Count of Monte Cristo (one of the best books I've ever read) to her as a reward. I loved his courage, and his tenacity, and his spunk. I loved his linguistic kinship with Mattie, and that they were able to relate so well with each other. (To be perfectly honest, I hope that they actually end up together, and damn the social repercussions of their era! They are meant for each other.) Miss Wilcox is a headstrong, forward-thinking, women's rights activist in her own, special, very unappreciated way. She bolsters Mattie's love of writing and shows her how to be courageous in order to achieve her goal, even though Mattie doesn't realize that she's learned anything. Royal is the good-looking, business-minded, but selfish and hard-hearted farmer-to-be. I had hoped that he would maybe play a different hand, but alas, no happy endings here. I realize that I haven't even mentioned the mystery yet. To me, that was, surprisingly, the least important aspect of the story. True, that is what appealed to me most, thinking of the mysterious contents of a bundle of letters and the finger-pointing that they must surely contain. That aspect was interesting yes, I love true crime and I especially love dramatizations showing what most likely happened, but the real joy of this book was in the scenes between the dramatic lake-side mystery. Mattie and her family and her life. I have to say that she, and Weaver, touched me. This really was a lovely story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rosianna

    It wasn't until the very end of this book that I realised exactly how much I loved it. I am unsure if I would call it enjoyable, more like a very well written, intelligent and absorbing read rather than something I would call uplifting. It's definitely haunting, and definitely something everyone should read. It wasn't until the very end of this book that I realised exactly how much I loved it. I am unsure if I would call it enjoyable, more like a very well written, intelligent and absorbing read rather than something I would call uplifting. It's definitely haunting, and definitely something everyone should read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This isn't my normal fare and I'm not entirely sure how it ended up on the bookshelf! However for bedtime reading I'm willing to try pretty much anything. This is a coming of age story set in early twentieth century America in New York state in a rural farming community. The author has quite neatly woven the story around an actual historical event; the murder of a young woman called Grace Brown (also the basis of Dreiser's An American Tragedy). The story revolves around Mattie, who is 16, her fa This isn't my normal fare and I'm not entirely sure how it ended up on the bookshelf! However for bedtime reading I'm willing to try pretty much anything. This is a coming of age story set in early twentieth century America in New York state in a rural farming community. The author has quite neatly woven the story around an actual historical event; the murder of a young woman called Grace Brown (also the basis of Dreiser's An American Tragedy). The story revolves around Mattie, who is 16, her family and community. Mattie has aspirations to write and be educated and is held back by her responsibilities to her family since the death of her mother. She also has a boyfriend who only has aspirations to farm. She has a friend, Weaver, who also has aspirations to be a lawyer and he experiences the casual racism of society at the time. Mattie works at a local hotel over the summer to earn extra money, which is where she meets Grace Brown. The story is rather sweet, but is also formulaic; the heroic teacher, the older males in the book are a pretty grim lot, Mattie grumbles about happy endings in literature but the author delivers a predictable ending (not entirely ringing true). Many of the minor characters are a little flimsy. Mattie herself is endearing but rather predictable. I think overall, analysis of a book like this is pointless because the plot disintegrates under scrutiny, but it read easily and late at night my standards are less demanding and the author can get away with more! A sweet undemanding story which was ok despite my initial scepticism.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Scarlet

    Halfway through A Gathering Light, I logged on to GoodReads wondering why I’d seemingly never heard of this absolutely riveting book, only to discover that I had. This is the UK title for A Northern Light - a book I’ve had on my TBR for years. A Gathering Light is the most feminist and empowering YA book I’ve read. I related to Mattie on a visceral level, to that need to be free of what everyone tells you is right, and the urge to go after what you know is right for you. I wish I had read this in Halfway through A Gathering Light, I logged on to GoodReads wondering why I’d seemingly never heard of this absolutely riveting book, only to discover that I had. This is the UK title for A Northern Light - a book I’ve had on my TBR for years. A Gathering Light is the most feminist and empowering YA book I’ve read. I related to Mattie on a visceral level, to that need to be free of what everyone tells you is right, and the urge to go after what you know is right for you. I wish I had read this in my adolescence when I first realized the implications of gender roles in our society, particularly in my country - all those times I thought of impending adulthood with dread, because it seemed an inevitable and devastatingly straight road toward an avalanche of predefined roles I did not wish to embrace. I still sometimes struggle with this at 26, though I am much surer of myself as a person now and lucky enough to have met that rare creature called a “feminist man.” And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn't have written even one poem if she'd had two howling babies, a husband bent on jamming another one into her, a house to run, a garden to tend, three cows to milk, twenty chickens to feed, and four hired hands to cook for. I knew then why they didn't marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn't want to be lonely my whole life. I didn't want to give up on my words. I didn't want to choose one over the other. Recommended to every teenage girl and young woman, or anyone who enjoys a good YA/historical fiction.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    It's been a long time since I passionately hated a book as much as this one. The positives: the book is well-written, and the weaving of the fictional story with the real Grace Brown story is skillfully done. The negatives: the book is dark and depressing. The mother dies of cancer in her 30s, which I probably took a little too personally. All of the males but one are scum; there are very few gentlemen, which I don't think is an accurate portrayal of the time. (Sure, there have been cads at all It's been a long time since I passionately hated a book as much as this one. The positives: the book is well-written, and the weaving of the fictional story with the real Grace Brown story is skillfully done. The negatives: the book is dark and depressing. The mother dies of cancer in her 30s, which I probably took a little too personally. All of the males but one are scum; there are very few gentlemen, which I don't think is an accurate portrayal of the time. (Sure, there have been cads at all times and places, but all men except for the black friend? Don't think so.) The theme is that marriage and motherhood kill the soul. An excessively negative picture of motherhood emerges; the portrayal of childbirth and breastfeeding is horrific. No one except her teacher, friend, and dead mother value education, which again doesn't strike me as realistic. This book is recommended for ages 12 and up, which I definitely disagree with based on the dark theme and negative portrayal of motherhood (YA don't yet have the experience to put this into perspective).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allison (The Allure of Books)

    Lyrical. Captivating. Haunting. All the different facets of this novel add up to make one of the best stories I have ever read. From the very first page, Mattie Gokey's zeal for words makes the pages of the book turn themselves. Weaved throughout Maggie's fictional struggles is the real life story of the death of Grace Brown, as seen through Mattie's brief (and fictional, of course) interaction with her, and letters that she left behind (the letters are real, by the way). This is not an idyllic co Lyrical. Captivating. Haunting. All the different facets of this novel add up to make one of the best stories I have ever read. From the very first page, Mattie Gokey's zeal for words makes the pages of the book turn themselves. Weaved throughout Maggie's fictional struggles is the real life story of the death of Grace Brown, as seen through Mattie's brief (and fictional, of course) interaction with her, and letters that she left behind (the letters are real, by the way). This is not an idyllic coming of age story full of flowers and happy, skipping children. It is a story of racism, hatred, marital infedelity and a family left imbittered by the death of their mother from breast cancer. Jennifer Donnelly doesn't sacrifice real life to make the story more pleasant. Childbirth is described with horrifying detail, sickness and starving children are common threads to the story, and marriage isn't viewed as the grand ideal. In fact...there IS no grand ideal. Just a community of people surviving as best as they can. Mattie's love for books and writing is one of the best parts of the story. My favorite part of the novel is a scene where Mattie sees her teacher's library for the first time-more books then she has ever seen or heard of that inspires her into a passionate speech about writing. Well, it seems to me that there are books that tell stories, and then there are books that tell truths...The first kind, they show you life like you want it to be. With villains getting what they deserve and the hero seeing what a fool he's been and marrying the heroine and happy endings and all that. Like Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion. But the second kind, they show you life more like it is. Like in Huckleberry Finn where Huck's pa is a no-good drunk and Jim suffers so. The first kind makes you cheerful and contented, but the second kind shakes you up... Why don't they tell the truth? Why don't they tell how a pigpen looks after the sow's eaten her children? Or how it is for a girl when her baby won't come out? Or that cancer has a smell to it? All those books...I bet not one of them will tell you what cancer smells like... I don't mean to be coarse. I just...I don't know why I should care what happens to people in a drawing room in London or Paris or anywhere else when no one in those places cares what happens to people in Eagle Bay." Her teacher then tells her Make them care, Mattie, and don't you ever be sorry. I like to think that is what Mattie will end up doing, after the end of the story. Through the reading of the losses Grace Brown suffers before her death, Mattie realizes where her destiny really lies.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Disliked this book for three reasons: 1. Mattie irritated me. She was supposed to be so smart but I thought she was stupid, I'd figured out the big 'mystery' by the second page but she was clueless until nearly the end. 2. Weaver also annoyed me. I mean yes he was discriminated against and treated badly, blah blah, but I felt no pity for him because he so obviously pitied himself enough for both of us. His constant self-righteous rage made me want to smack him. 3. I thought the writer was projecti Disliked this book for three reasons: 1. Mattie irritated me. She was supposed to be so smart but I thought she was stupid, I'd figured out the big 'mystery' by the second page but she was clueless until nearly the end. 2. Weaver also annoyed me. I mean yes he was discriminated against and treated badly, blah blah, but I felt no pity for him because he so obviously pitied himself enough for both of us. His constant self-righteous rage made me want to smack him. 3. I thought the writer was projecting her own viewpoints (eg feminism, equal rights, being a stay-at-home-mum is a waste of intelligence, *real* literature is miserable and makes you depressed and the rest is just fluffy chick-lit) onto the characters instead of trying to think how someone in that period would feel. I hate it when writers give characters in historical fiction MODERN ideas and sensibilities. It's just lazy and incorrect.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Summer

    ”I knew then why they didn’t marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn’t want to be lonely my whole life. I didn’t want to give up my words. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn’t have to. Charles Dickens didn’t. And John Milton didn’t, either, though he might have made life easier for untold generations of schoolkids if he had.” A Northern Light speaks to me on transcendental levels. I truly am at a loss for ”I knew then why they didn’t marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn’t want to be lonely my whole life. I didn’t want to give up my words. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn’t have to. Charles Dickens didn’t. And John Milton didn’t, either, though he might have made life easier for untold generations of schoolkids if he had.” A Northern Light speaks to me on transcendental levels. I truly am at a loss for words—which was evidently the case in my below thoughts written in 2013 (though perhaps it was underdeveloped writing skills more than anything else.) Donnelly once again proves she is a master of seamlessly blurring the lines between genres, amalgamating what might be considered a fractured, disjointed story into a cohesive, powerful, and heartbreaking coming-of-age tale. I speak both from a place of visceral feelings and with a modicum of objectivity when I say that this book is as close to perfection as one can get. Also, Royal is a dick. ____________ 11/2/13 I don't know when the last time was that I've given a book the ultimate glory of being rated 5 stars, but A Northern Light really is fitting for this. Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, but as of late, I haven't exactly been blown away by any of the previous books. This book has stolen the title of being one of my favorite historical fiction books not only this year, but of my entire life. The main character is lovable, the mystery is gripping, and the writing superb. I'd recommend this novel to feminists and history lovers everywhere.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This one takes a little time to get some momentum going but once it does, it's good. I think the description is a little misleading. I think it's a more coming of age book than a mystery. I personally think The Tea Rose was a better written story by Donnelly but I think this was maybe her debut novel. With that said, not bad at all. This one takes a little time to get some momentum going but once it does, it's good. I think the description is a little misleading. I think it's a more coming of age book than a mystery. I personally think The Tea Rose was a better written story by Donnelly but I think this was maybe her debut novel. With that said, not bad at all.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    Original post at One More Page I was never a big fan of historical novels because in my mind, they're equivalent to classics: slow reading and oftentimes, hard to read. I tend to shy away from any novel set in any part of history that isn't a classic because...well, classics are classics for a reason that's why I feel the need to read them. Historicals are just that, and it doesn't really call my name. That's just me being a book snob, excuse me there. But the good reviews of Jennifer Donnelly's bo Original post at One More Page I was never a big fan of historical novels because in my mind, they're equivalent to classics: slow reading and oftentimes, hard to read. I tend to shy away from any novel set in any part of history that isn't a classic because...well, classics are classics for a reason that's why I feel the need to read them. Historicals are just that, and it doesn't really call my name. That's just me being a book snob, excuse me there. But the good reviews of Jennifer Donnelly's books got me curious, so I had her books somewhere in my wish list, for possible future acquiring and reading. Fortunately, I didn't have to buy any because I got her two YA novels as gifts last Christmas. Knowing myself, however, I was kind of sure those books would sit on my TBR pile for a while before I get to go through them. If I wasn't crazy enough to set a mini-challenge for myself every month, I don't think I would have picked up and discovered the beauty that is A Northern Light. Mattie Gokey is working at Glenmore when the body of Grace Brown was found in the river. She remembers Grace very well -- after all, she had asked Mattie to burn some letters for her just a few hours before she was found dead. Unable to sleep that night, Mattie decides to read the letters and finds that there was more to Grace Brown's death than it looks. At the same time that was happening, another story is told that accounts how Mattie got to the Glenmore in the first place. Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey is a smart young lady who has big dreams of being a writer but is losing hope of them coming true. After their mother died and her older brother ran away, Mattie is left to help manage the Gokey household with her sullen father and three younger sisters. A lover of books and the written word, Mattie dreams of writing her own, too, but poverty, her family and a possible romance all comes to her, forcing her to decide if she should follow her dreams or stay and fulfill her promise to her dead mother. The summaries I wrote there is not enough to do justice to the beauty of this book. A Northern Light turned out to be an easy read despite it being set in a time so far from what I know. The setting was vivid, and it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood reads, The Nickel-Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty. I could just imagine the sprawling farm lands, the cows that they need to milk, the hotel, the Gokey home. Adding to the vivid scenery are the wonderfully drawn characters. Mattie's voice rang clear and true, and all the people around her shone like little stars, too, shedding more light in the mystery and the story. Even the unnamed guests in the hotel felt like real people, and I can almost hear the noise of the guests eating as Mattie and her co-workers in Glenmore rush to and from the kitchen, picking up plates and serving dishes. The writing was simple yet poetic, immediately pulling me in without having to adjust to any odd language. Overall, the book just worked for me and it read almost like a contemporary YA novel, which I really liked. The best part of the novel, the one that tickled my fancy so much, is the fact that Mattie loved words. My bookish self found a kindred spirit in Mattie and in her fascination with books. It was almost like A Northern Light was also a book for appreciating books and the power of words. I could definitely relate to Mattie in this particular scene when she saw her teacher's massive library: What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed. I get the exact same reaction when I'm in a bookstore. ;) I also always loved those scenes when Mattie and her best friend Weaver would have a word duel, where they'd "shoot" each other with synonyms of a word that they set at the start of the game, and the one who fails to give the answer "dies". This book gave importance to even the simplest of words, and to further stress that, chapters that narrate Mattie's past before she got to Glenmore had headings of Mattie's word of the day that somehow made its way into the story. A Northern Light is a ultimately a story about following your dreams, but it also gracefully tackles other issues such as sex and racism. Sometime during reading this book, I got the good chills, and that just confirmed that how good this book was. I loved it, and I think people who appreciate the written word would like this book very much, too. I'm still not a big fan of historical fiction, but I will definitely read Jennifer Donnelly’s other books. :)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I have mixed feelings about this book. Parts were written well; other parts were more of a stretch. Some of the events were extremely predictable; others were a total surprise. Some events and characters seem to have no point in the overall plot, and others that have a greater role in the plot hardly appear at all. Having taken a number of creative writing classes, I know these things to be things most writers avoid. I wouldn’t call this great writing. It is overall an engaging book, but not gre I have mixed feelings about this book. Parts were written well; other parts were more of a stretch. Some of the events were extremely predictable; others were a total surprise. Some events and characters seem to have no point in the overall plot, and others that have a greater role in the plot hardly appear at all. Having taken a number of creative writing classes, I know these things to be things most writers avoid. I wouldn’t call this great writing. It is overall an engaging book, but not great writing. I understand, from the author’s note at the end, that the true elements of the story inspired her to write the outer story to support the tale. However, I’m not sure that the true story couldn’t have been separated into its own book. Both stories would hold an audience’s interest, and I think that some of the resulting clumsy writing is because she was trying to blend too much. I liked this book, and would recommend it. I think that it would have appeal to YA girls, but I don’t think it would have as much appeal to an older audience, or adults. I think that 12 – 16 year-olds would be the most likely audience for this book, again due to the fact that kids like to read about older kids. I also feel that girls would identify closer with the main character than boys would, especially since the majority of the male characters are not positive characters, with the exception of Weaver Smith.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nigel

    I'd only read a few pages of this before I realised I'd already read it! I guess it must have been been when it was first published around 15 years ago. I could remember bits but not all of it and I've not got many paperbacks with me so I kept going. I remembered enjoying it the first time round and was slightly surprised to find I still liked it a lot on a second reading. Mattie is for me a very good character and her story comes over well. A girl growing up in a tough life with ambitions - it I'd only read a few pages of this before I realised I'd already read it! I guess it must have been been when it was first published around 15 years ago. I could remember bits but not all of it and I've not got many paperbacks with me so I kept going. I remembered enjoying it the first time round and was slightly surprised to find I still liked it a lot on a second reading. Mattie is for me a very good character and her story comes over well. A girl growing up in a tough life with ambitions - it works. A major strength here is the great writing. This is a very rich cast of characters who come over as real in the main. Even fairly minor characters are good. The atmosphere overall is very good too. I'd happily recommend this to anyone who reads the blurb and finds it interesting.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maja

    “Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that come from your words.” I absolutely loved this tale from beginning to end. A Northern Light is a beautiful coming of age story written by a gifted writer, Jennifer Donnelly. This is the story of Mattie Gokey, girl who's living in a rural area in 1906. She is struggling with helping her father run a farm and raise her younger siblings as all the responsibility falls on her. But Mattie wants more than this dull life “Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that come from your words.” I absolutely loved this tale from beginning to end. A Northern Light is a beautiful coming of age story written by a gifted writer, Jennifer Donnelly. This is the story of Mattie Gokey, girl who's living in a rural area in 1906. She is struggling with helping her father run a farm and raise her younger siblings as all the responsibility falls on her. But Mattie wants more than this dull life. She is a talented writer who collects words, wants to go to college and pursue her dreams. However, there are many obstacles, including her father and her boyfriend Royal, that may keep her from realizing them. Story immediately draws you in. It was such an emotional journey. I definitely felt myself pulling for her, hoping she would make the right choice. There are many themes in this book - love, poverty, bravery, hope, and feminism as the central theme. The author does a wonderful job of portraying what life was like back then and the challenges women faced in society at that time. I highly recommend this gem

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    If I had to pick two words to describe the book, they would be "pretentious" and "boring." Those apply both to the writing and to the protagonist, Mattie. When I started reading this, I felt like it was geared to 8-12 year olds. The whole word-a-day thing Mattie does seemed gimmicky and condescending. Granted, I am an adult, but if I had been assigned this as a teenager, I would have thought it was stupid. As the book went on, the "mystery" wasn't a mystery at all, and was barely addressed except If I had to pick two words to describe the book, they would be "pretentious" and "boring." Those apply both to the writing and to the protagonist, Mattie. When I started reading this, I felt like it was geared to 8-12 year olds. The whole word-a-day thing Mattie does seemed gimmicky and condescending. Granted, I am an adult, but if I had been assigned this as a teenager, I would have thought it was stupid. As the book went on, the "mystery" wasn't a mystery at all, and was barely addressed except in a line here or there. I can see why this won an award (The Carnegie Medal, UK's equivalent to the Newbery Medal, and why I picked this up). If I'm going to be cynical, I'd say it won the award because it's long and dull. But I like to be optimistic, so I'm going to say that it was chosen because it paints a picture of the rural Adirondacks in 1906, it uses vocabulary words, and it has feminist themes. Note: I DO NOT recommend this to 8-12 year olds because of sexual content. WHAT I LIKED * Donnelly got the rural aspect right. She certainly did plenty of research, and the characters have distinct voices. WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE * It's long, it's boring, and the copywriter in charge of writing the summary, using words like "mystery" and "romance," has clearly never read either genre. * The only humor in this novel is scatological or really awful puns. I usually like puns, but these all seem to be gathered off Popsicle sticks. * We'll get to the rest, below. I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK IF * You constitute a dead body and an obvious, no-brainer solution to how it got there as "mystery" * You consider teenagers feeling each other up to be "romance" * You like your humor to be of the third-grade variety WHY THE ONE-STAR RATING If I had abandoned this book around page 168, when I thought I would, it might have kept 2 stars. But for the sake of an honest review, I trucked through it. Every white male in this story is unintelligent as well as being either a rapist, abuser, drunk, murderer, or pervert, or else he just hasn't had a chance to be any one of those things yet. So far, each woman is either a runaway or hates her life because she is always being taken advantage of by a man. Or she's a bible thumping gossip. Weaver is the only likable character in this book. Every other character is a stereotype. I'm so tired of painting feminism as a false dichotomy between 1) absolute misery in motherhood and 2) inevitable happiness in a successful career while being completely independent from family. MY KIND OF FEMINIST NOVELS Criteria: 1) a female protagonist, 2) a female author, in which 3) there are fewer than 2 references to menstruation, 4) no one is raped, 5) the majority of male characters are NOT portrayed as rapists/drunks/addicts/abusive/murderers/perverts/chauvinists, and 6) the majority of female characters are NOT portrayed as miserable matriarchs or successful workaholics—they are capable and have agency whether or not they have a family to care for.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alissa Patrick

    I chose to add this book to my TBR because it was on several lists as one of the Best Children's Books - it is actually an YA historical novel but nevertheless it was a compelling read. It's basically a interesting piece of fiction- about a girl growing up in the Adirondacks in the 1900s who envisions a better life for herself. She loves to read books and learns a new word from the dictionary everyday. This peaked my interest because #1 I LOVE books about books, and #2 I love reading books about I chose to add this book to my TBR because it was on several lists as one of the Best Children's Books - it is actually an YA historical novel but nevertheless it was a compelling read. It's basically a interesting piece of fiction- about a girl growing up in the Adirondacks in the 1900s who envisions a better life for herself. She loves to read books and learns a new word from the dictionary everyday. This peaked my interest because #1 I LOVE books about books, and #2 I love reading books about people's lives and experiences that I have zero knowledge in. Here, it's living in the 1900s in simpler times, as well as maintaining a farm. I also liked how this novel intertwined a real-life murder mystery of a woman named Grace Brown, who was thrown off a boat in 1906 by her lover. Her death was a huge story back then, and her ghost is said to be haunting the lake where she drowned. (they showcased it on Unsolved Mysteries!!)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Beth The Vampire

    Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get - a cold, sick feeling deep down inside - when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again be quite the same person you were. It's 1906, and Mattie Gokey is an intelligent and mature young woman that is decades before her time. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get - a cold, sick feeling deep down inside - when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again be quite the same person you were. It's 1906, and Mattie Gokey is an intelligent and mature young woman that is decades before her time. She treasures words, not fields, stories, and not cattle. With her mother buried at the back of her family's land, Mattie has become the carer for her younger siblings and a major help for her father on the farm. But what Mattie really wants is to pass her exams, get her high school diploma, and travel to New York where she can go to college and learn to be a writer. She spends her time torn between life in her books, and the world outside it, as the family struggles with money, sickness, and their future. Mattie attracts the attention of Royal, who she starts 'sparking' with, and finds that he cures a loneliness within her she has been feeling since her mother died. There is also her teacher, Miss Wilcox, who turns out to be a prolific poet and is condemned for her writings, as they are considered unbecoming of a woman. Probably the most important element of the story though has to do with Grace; the woman who turns up dead at the hotel Mattie is working at during the summer. Through Grace, Mattie constructs a story of her life, mostly thanks to the letters Grace gave her before her death. The whole incident shakes her, but as she delves deeper she realises that not everything is as it seems, and that she can still change everything if not for Grace, then for herself. Even though the book is set over 100 years ago, I think the basic morals still apply to young adults today. There are the priorities of family, love, reaching for your dreams but also trying to be realistic about the future. I think every adolescent makes a choice at one stage, weighing every element of their life, and choosing a path. It is not an easy decision, and it is not for Mattie either. I found myself going back and forth with her about what she should chose, and in the end found myself satisfied with her decision, like she had come full circle. In the end you have to live with yourself and the choices you make. All that being said, this book was depressing. I usually read to escape the real world, not dive head first into it, hence why I read a lot more fantasy and science fiction than realism. Don't get me wrong though, the themes are sometimes the same, especially when it comes to young adult fiction and the passage to adulthood being a recurring narrative device. But Mattie could have been any young person in that time, or even before and after it to some extent as well. The struggle women faced was very real, and I can't imagine a life where I would have no choice in what I'd do with it. There was also a fantastic passage with Mattie sitting with Miss Wilcox in her library when they talk about the differences between books and the real world, and not only the importance of stories but the trouble they can cause as well. 'Cripes, Miss Wilcox, they're not guns,' I said. 'No, they're not Mattie, they're books. And a hundred times more dangerous.' Mattie often speaks about how books lie to her; that they portray the world not as it is, but as how the writer wants it to be. Well, this novel definitely portrays a more 'realistic' view of the world around her. She is torn between her promise to her mother to care for her family, marrying a handsome man who unexpectedly turns his attentions her way, and chasing her own hopes and dreams. Around her are people who are stuck, or who never got the chance to live their life, with Mattie almost thrown back and forth between these different sides. This is really a coming of age story set in a time when options were limited, and Mattie is a fantastic character who truely struggles with what to do. It's not simple, not easy, but then no one said it ever would be. I felt that Grace's impact was so immense that it was almost pushed completely into the background at times. Especially towards the end, when Mattie makes a decision about her future, this could have been fleshed out a bit more. Was it simply because she didn't want to be like Grace, or live a life unfulfilled? Or was it something more? For the whole novel Mattie is trying to make this massive decision, with people in her life pushing her one way or another (with little care about what Mattie wants by the way, and it would have been nice for someone to ask her what she wanted), for her to come to a conclusion felt so quick. I didn't feel that her connection with Grace was as strong as it was with others, but in the end her decision was her own, and I guess I can't complain about that. The point of view was simple, as the reader follows Mattie and sees the world with her eyes. While restrictive in a way, Mattie was the key to the whole story, so in a way it was appropriate. There are some time jumps, but the passages where the past and present collide all seem to have a similar theme or purpose. I felt that the focus was on character, rather than the world in general, with very little description about the wider world. I really loved Mattie's word a day from the dictionary, how everyday was a chance to learn and grown, and despite everything that happened around her, she never forgot that. At times empowering, but also heartbreaking, while this was a good read, it's not really my cup of tea.

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