Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Release Date: April 1, 2003
Cover Designer: Vaughn Andrews
Age Audience: YA
Genre: Historical fiction
Summary: It's 1906, and 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 asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind a murder. Against a backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect of A Northern Light. I rarely read historical fiction set in the States. I borrowed this from the library only because Donnelly’s other novel, Revolution, is receiving a lot of critical acclaim. However, I was not disappointed in the least.
Mattie was a strong heroine. She had to deal with raising her sisters after her mother died and her brother left. Yet she still dreamed of going to college in New York City and becoming a writer. Because women often didn’t receive higher learning in 1906, you could say that there was a feminist undertone. But not in an in-your-face kind of way. All the side characters had depth and were likeable as well.
I praise Donnelly for not sugarcoating any of the issues presented, such as racism and marital infidelity. Everything about this book was raw and honest. I don’t think I’ve ever used the work “raw” to describe writing before, but in this case it’s the best word I can use. This was not at all a “light” or “fun” read.
My only criticism is that there were too many plot lines going on at once. Donnelly could have taken out the murder and still have had a good story about a young woman with aspirations but who is tied to her family by a promise. In fact, I had to drag myself through the chapters in which Mattie read over Grace’s letters, because I longed to be back in Mattie’s story.
Overall this was a very good book. I was happy with the outcome and the ending was satisfying.
I’d recommend A Northern Light to anyone who likes YA historical fiction.
Needless to say, I’ll be sure to check out Revolution soon to get more of this wonderful author.