A Northern Light
March 25th 2003
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.
I've been having a bit of a historical thing lately, I just can't get enough of them! And A Northern Light is probably one of the best I've read. It didn't feel like I was reading a historical, it felt like I was reading a book that had been written in 1906. I was completely engrossed in Mattie's world and I was rooting for her so much through the novel. It was just such a great coming-of-age novel, mixed in with romance and mystery and it was just brilliantly well done.
Mattie was an amazing heroine. She wasn't particularly physically strong and she didn't carry an impact like the heroines in big series or anything, but she was real and from the heart. She was a clever girl in a time and a place where it didn't pay to be clever (in fact, it cost rather a lot) and where family and farming all kind of took priority. And I found it really fascinating reading all of the parts with her and Royal together, because I've never really got people who fancy people and love people that they don't even share any interests with, and it was good to get a kind of insight into that. But despite her thing with Royal, I was rooting for her to become independent and to go to New York and to live her dream for her. She was just very down to earth and incredibly modern and relateable for a character in a historical novel.
Also, I loved Miss Wilcox, Mattie's teacher. If I was a clever girl stuck in a farm in the middle of nowhere in 1906 America, she would be like my idol. The secret author of a collection of controversial poetry and trying to escape an unhappy marriage, she was just kind of brilliant. I really wanted to see a bit more of her in the book, and I hope all went well for her and that her and Mattie can meet again. They were just so similar, I guess, and she really helped Mattie make her decisions I think.
Although there was a great deal less mystery than I thought there would be (the book is majorly about Mattie and her life and decisions), I still thoroughly enjoyed it (as you could probably tell already). There were times where the pace kind of faltered, and overall it was quite slow, but there were also lots of place, particularly near the end where it was really intense and I was just hooked.
The main thing I was worried about with this was that it would be a tragedy. I was so prepared for it to end awfully and sadly and that I would just be crying. I wasn't worried that Mattie would die, as such. I was way more worried for Weaver actually, in that respect. But I did think that it would be kind of tragic in that way that you get when you finish a book and just think 'they could've been so much happier'. I was worried it was going to be like that.
A Northern Light is a brilliant book that may not be the quickest of reads, but is totally worth the effort if you like historicals and coming-of-age stories.