A Northern Light

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A Northern Light
Publisher
Age Range
14+
Release Date
September 01, 2004
ISBN
0152053107
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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 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.

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A New Favorite
Overall rating
 
5.0
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Reader reviewed by Kayla

I really enjoyed this book. It's not often I come across a main character who's an avid reader. It was fun to read all the references to so many classics and I was a little proud of myself that I understood and recognized all of them. Mattie is such a great character. She's right up there with Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for characters that I wish I could be friends with in real life. I also loved how Donnelly used the colloquialism and idioms of that time, which made it very easy to imagine that I was listening to Mattie speak throughout the entire story, not just when she engaged in dialogue.

I didn't really think that basing the book around the Grace Brown murder case was necessary (that plot device could have been left out completely and I don't believe the book would have suffered any IMO), but I'm not complaining. It was interesting reading those letters and knowing that they were the actual words of Grace Brown.
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Brilliant writing!
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4.0
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4.0
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Reader reviewed by Allison

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.
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One of the best books I've read
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Reader reviewed by ...

Mattie Gokey wants to become a writer and study in university, but as her mother was dying, Mattie promised her she would take care of her family. Though torn between her own dreams and the promise she made to her mother, Mattie takes a job at the Glenmore hotel, where she meets Grace Brown, a guest at the hotel who asks her to burn a bundle of letters. But Mattie procrastinates, and when Grace is found dead, she must make another hard decision - burn the letters and keep her word, or use them to solve Grace's murder.

This book is very well written, funny, and has likeable and believable characters.

It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I would recomend it to just about anybody.

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A Local Author Writes of an Adirondack Tale
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5.0
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5.0
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Reader reviewed by Mrs. Healt

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially because the author grew up just up the road from my town.  In this, her debut novel, she spins a tail of mystery and intrigue in the Adirondacks.  The imagery in this book is fantastic.  She tells her dark tale of murder with such compassion for the characters.  I have heard the tale of Grace Brown's murder before, but never with the compassion that Donnely tells it with.  I think this would be appropriate for a high school level student to enjoy. 
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Beautiful
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5.0
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5.0
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Reader reviewed by Amy Ward

 just finished a most remarkable and moving book! A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly focuses on Mattie, a sixteen-year-old girl growing up in the Adirondack mountains in the early 1900's. Mattie is very smart and loves to read and write. This is frowned upon by her father, who relies on Mattie to raise her siblings after the death of their mother. Mattie's dream is to go to college. This dream seems as though it may come true after she is accepted into Barnard, a college in New York City. But Mattie doesn't have the money for the train ride there or for room and board. Complications arise in the form of Royal Loomis, a local boy that begins to court Mattie. Mattie gives up her dream of going to college until a tragic event occurs at the Glenmore, a hotel where Mattie works to earn extra money. This event puts everything in Mattie's life into perspective. Will Mattie go to college or give up her dreams forever?

The language and writing in this book is lyrical. It moves seamlessly between past and present. The story is intricately woven together and the characters drawn perfectly. I was rooting for Mattie and her dreams all the way, but the obstacles in her life, i.e. her father and Royal, were also very sympathetic. Mattie's word of the day guided the events of the book just as much as the characters. Even though, at the beginning of the book, I knew what was going to happen, I was still amazed at the twists and turns. I love books that start in the present and go back in time to tell the story. It makes for such an interesting read. I drug this book out over a few weeks, but could have easily finished it in one long day! It is just that good! No wonder it's a Printz Honor Book!
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A Northern Light
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5.0
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Reader reviewed by Kristen

I really loved this book. I listened to it on audio - which really put
me into the setting and the voice of Mattie. There is so much to this
story. Mattie wants more out of her, she has a knack for writing and is
the first one in her family to get a high school diploma. But with her
mother gone, her family needs help taking care of their land. Also,
lingering in the distance, is the promise that Mattie gave to her
mother to stay with the family.

Her dream is to go to New York, to go to college there and study to become a writer.

Enter
another dilemma - Royal - a handsome young man that seems to be smitten
with her and eventually makes his intentions known that he means to
have her for a wife. And who can't fall in love with the most handsome,
suave guy around? Is this the life for Mattie though?

I love how
there's so much going on, add in the curious love letters and the
mystery surrounding a young woman's drowning and you've got a killer
novel.

I felt like my head was in the clouds after reading this. I loved the romance, tragedy, and wonderful characters in this novel.

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a new light
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3.0
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3.0
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Reader reviewed by bookme

a young girls choice to stay with all shes ever know or venture into a new and unknown world. Matiie's character will make you root for her the whole way through and hope that she is able to make her dream come true. a book about a girl who follows her heart and does what she her gut tells her to. dripping with historical fiction that will keep teens of all ages interested.
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Aspiring, fills the reader with wonder & shows it's never too late to follow your heart
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Reader reviewed by Katie

This is one of the best books ever written. Hands down! It was fairly long, but I finished it in around 48 hours. I felt like I was rooting for Mattie the whole way. My heart was wrenched as I read what she went through every day. It was so refreshing to see that she was so hungry for knowledge.

She seemed so naive at times, but then she acted many years too old for her age. Jennifer Donnelly did an amazing job of describing everything in the book, I had a movie playing in my head as I was reading. Amazing, amazing, amazing, I could read it 10000 more times and never get bored.
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The Choice Between Security and Freedom
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5.0
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5.0
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Reader reviewed by Stephanie

In the strange summer of 1906 at a lakeshore hotel in upstate New York, a young woman is found drowned in the lake. For Grace Brown, life may be over, but for sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey, a young farmgirl working for extra money at the hotel, it may just be beginning. For Mattie holds the key to the true reason behind Grace Browns death, and it may be a lot more sinister than anyone believes at first.

But this novel is not really about Grace Brown; its about the bookworm Mattie. She has the mind of a writer-intellectual but is trapped in the body and life of an ordinary woman living the hard life in the Great North Woods. Her teacher, Miss Wilcox, encourages her to read, write, and go to New York City to study literature and become a writer, but everyone elseincluding Mattieknows this is just a poppycock dream. She must stay and take care of her motherless family, as she had promised her mother on her deathbed.

Matties smart best friend Weaver wants them both to go to the city; Weaver wants to become an important black lawyer. But Matties neighbor, the handsome Royal Loomis, has other plans. Mattie is extremely flattered by Royals attention, and cant help but feel torn that it seems like she must choose between being cared for and being able to write. What, in the end, will Mattie decide?

A NORTHERN LIGHT is beautifully written, an engrossing historical fiction for those who do not like historical fiction very much. All of the characters in the story become real to us, and we will find ourselves cheering for Mattie to succeed. I highly recommend this book to anyone.
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Fascinating Historical Fiction
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5.0
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Reader reviewed by Mairi

Ever since Miss Wilcox told Mathilda (Mattie) Gokey that she had a gift for writing, Mattie has wanted nothing more than to put it to good use. However, her strict father rarely lets her travel as far away as Glenmore, so where will she ever gather enough experience to really write? Stuck with her father, Mattie tries to learn one word a day and dreams of taking a job in Glenmore.

For years, everyone who knows the sort of thing I like to read has told me to try this book, but I was never able to find a copy. As I was browsing through the school library, though, I saw it on the top shelf and took it down so I could have a look at it before classes. The first thing I noticed was that it had a beautiful cover and, when I opened it up, I found that it was a beautiful book.

My only word of caution about this book would be that the general consensus seems to be that it is not the sort of historical fiction that even those who do not read historical fiction can enjoy.
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