Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: A Northern Light

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly. The GoodReads 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.
I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I read “Revolution” by this same author. I thought she was a talented writer and storyteller and wanted to see what else she could do—the fact that this book was a Printz Honor Book only made me more intrigued.

And I was pretty happy with what I got.

It takes place in 1906 in the Adirondacks (aka northeastern New York), in a small rural town—a setting which was simultaneously fascinating and depressing to read about. Fascinating because I’ve never read anything with that setting, so everything was fresh and new to me. Depressing because Mattie and a lot of her neighbors live in poverty, so watching them struggle just to lead a basic existence was pretty rough for me. The setting proved to be such a great narrative tool, though, because while you want Mattie to be able to leave and live a bigger life, at the same time you can totally understand why it doesn’t seem possible for her to do so.

Mattie herself was easy to sympathize with, maybe because she loves books and words so much. She’s one of those characters that you can’t help but root for as she tries to balance her sense of responsibility for her family with her own desires and dreams. There is a bit of a romance in the story, but it’s not your typical YA type—it’s a little more bittersweet. Oh, and can I just say hallelujah for a YA with a completely platonic male friend?

The only thing that bugged me about the book was the way it skipped back and forth between the past and the present. It wasn’t done in an especially clear way, so when I got to a new chapter I was constantly confused about which time I was in. I think the problem was that the two time periods were only four or so months apart, so there wasn’t that much to delineate them.

Overall, a perfectly lovely book. I did feel like there were a few unresolved issues and that the author took the easy way out with some things, but still, it’s definitely a book worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


  1. No way! A platonic male friend? This I gotta see. This sounds like a great book. There's an air of mystery surrounding it. I like that. I might be hesitant because of the time skipping but a 4/5 is a great recommendation from you.

  2. Yep, Revolution got me to read this book too. While I prefer Revolution, I am glad I read this as well and can't wait for more YA from this author.

  3. I agree with you on your thoughts on this one. I loved it, especially Mattie's bookishness. I did find the transitions to be awkward at times as well.

  4. I've been wanting to read this one, but have felt like maybe I should read An American Tragedy first? Glad you liked it; it does sound like a very worthwhile read.


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