Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Completion Date: May 2007
Pages: 408
Publication Year: 2004
Owned Prior to 2007

Reason for Reading: I have heard good things about Jennifer Donnelly. I have adult books to read by her, I just have not got to them yet.
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 have consistently heard good things about Jennifer Donnelly, but it has taken me forever to just read this young adult attempt from her. I seemed to be in a theme during the month of June, even if it was not intentional, but a lot of the books I read were about a female figuring out who she is and making a place for herself in the world. Often the women in these books were unconventional in the sense that they wanted more for themselves that was available to women during this time.

Mattie's life is told during this novel. Her mother has died, and she is being raised by her father. Her brother has left, leaving a house full of girls and with her in charge. She wants more from her life, though. She gets good grades in school, and wants to go to university, but even when her teacher comes to say good things about her, her father refuses. Farming life was hard, especially when he had no son. He needed someone to help him out, and that responsibility fell on Mattie. Then, their donkey died and life changes very drastically for Mattie.

Mattie wanted to go away to university, and in an attempt to raise money she wanted to work at one of the establishments for guests during the summer. Her father refused, but then he needed to buy a new donkey and suddenly Mattie is working to help him pay for it. The summer opens up a very new world for a girl that had been relatively sheltered during her young life. While working, she stumbles upon a woman who gives her a package of letters to do away with. When that woman ends up dead, Mattie knows that she has more in her hands than she originally thought. She keeps trying to do what the now deceased woman asked of her, but she is drawn to these letters. It is these letters and the life that this woman lead that helps Mattie get her own life figured out.

In the meantime, she meets a boy who she thinks she loves and agrees to marry him. He may not be all that he seems, but she seems to believe that he is her future. She finds out a deep secret about her beloved teacher, and ends up finding a person that she will cherish forever because she believed in her. Mattie struggles through her mother's death, being raised by her father, running the domestic side of the farm, math exams, and other things to build her life up to the one that we see at the end of the book. Mattie breaks away from convention in a most interesting way, making for a very good ending.

Parting Thoughts: Donnelly has my attention now, hopefully I will find the time during the rest of the year to read The Tea Rose, which I own but have not read yet. She writes in a manner that really interests you as a reader, and she gives women a chance in a period where their chances were very few.

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