Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I somehow missed this book when it was released in 2004; my book friends at BOOKENDS encouraged me to read it.

Basically, when they say something is good and encourage me to read it, I always give it a go. They are significantly more reliable than blurbs on the front of the cover by different authors...[/deep suspicion]

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

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

In 1906, a young girl by the name of Mathilda Gokey lives with her father and three younger sisters on a farm. Her mother has recently passed away and the household is still adjusting to the loss.

The story is told in both the future in the past; nearly every chapter alternates, but there isn't a noticeable way to tell which chapter is in the past or the future besides the context clues of the chapter. It's up to the reader to figure out the timeline; a challenge that is rewarding rather than thwarting.


Matilda aka Mattie aka Matt is pretty smart. She's a writer who has aspirations of going to school at Barnard University in New York. Her teacher, Miss Wilcox, assists her as much as possible with getting good grades, encouraging her to write, and ensuring that her and her friend Weaver will get their high school diplomas (something that in 1906 was pretty rare for farm kids to earn).

Her father doesn't want her to go to University. This is partly because her older brother Lawton ran away from home and hasn't returned. It's also partly because her father will have greater difficulty managing the farm without Matt.

Matt is best friends with Weaver, the only dark-skinned kid in town who has a strong will to achieve equality. Weaver's mother is widowed as her husband, due to his skin color, was brutally beat up and left to die. Weaver has a strong sense of justice about his person and wants to go to university to be a lawyer.

Matt also looks out for the Hubbard kids whose mother, Emmie, can't feed them all the time. Emmie has been widowed and her eldest son Tom will come by the Gokey homestead to see if there's any extra food to be had.

Matt is an all around caring person as she sees when people are down on their luck and will try to help them. The place she lives is a very ruthless place where people not only battle the elements, but also battle each other (from time to time). Matt tries to do right by her family and her friends; her dreams really grind at her sense to stay and help her father and family.

Matt is also being wooed by a young farmer; Royal Loomis (which is such a telling name by the by). Royal is one of the most handsome boys in town and is after Matt's hand in marriage, creating one more reason Matt should stay behind and give up her dreams.

Now as the book takes place in the past and future (because the present is very debatable in this book), there is a segment we see in the future where a girl has died in a lake near the hotel where Matt works. The girl entrusted Matt with a bundle of letters to burn before she set sail on the lake. Matt brushed it off at the time as guests are forever making odd requests, but when the girl dies, Matt is suddenly faced with indecision. Does she respect the dead and burn the letters? Does she share the letters with the authorities in case they can gleam any clues behind the drowning?

This book is full of life decision not easily made in a voice that is steadfast and patient. Mattie was a delightful narrator and the book is not only full of adventure, but full of hope. It was also very interesting to read something set over a hundred years ago which only made Mattie's choice more gripping.

It was also a refreshing break from everything going as expected...there were many plot elements in the story that I hadn't predicted (which is always awesome for me). I also loved Mattie's passion for the written word and how in-depth her character was portrayed.

All in all, pretty good.

Happy reading!

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