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Mattie Gokey has a word for everything She collects words stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life the truths that she can't write down in storiesThe fresh pain of her mother's death The burden of raising her sisters while her father struggles over his brokeback farm The mad welter of feelings Mattie has for handsome but dull Royal Loomis who says he wants to marry her And the secret dreams that keep her going visions of finishing high school going to college in New York City becoming a writerYet when the drowned body of a young woman turns up at the hotel where Mattie works all her words are useless But in the dead woman's letters Mattie again finds her voice and a determination to live her own lifeSet in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy this coming of age novel effortlessly weaves romance history and a murder mystery into something moving and real and wholly original

10 thoughts on “A Northern Light

  1. says:

    this monday morning float is for you alfonsooh a northern light you were way better than i expected i used to get really angry at this book because it would come up in resort all the time and some people would just shelve it in my section because it looks like a grown up book not like teen fiction and i would always have to be yanking it off the shelves and saying nooooo you go downstairs like shooing away a mischievous dog while i was reading it i loved ita few days after i am aware of plenty of weak spots underwritten parts the ambition of too many storylines that maybe with a little pruning would have resulted in a fantastic book that i would want to read again and again but maybe that is what teen fiction is a stepping stone to truly great literature i don't mean this to be disparaging observe how i have grown in my teen fiction stance but younger readers lack the literary scope of people who have been around the block a few times with a few books their critical faculties are not as honed as experienced readers and so the soft spots an adult reader picks up on go unnoticed by younger readers who are carried away in the power of the narrative voice and the excitement of what will happen next and that is good enough really for teen literature get them engaged in the text get them hungry for reading tell them a new and interesting story and teach them some new words along the way i am totally content with thatmary k says somewhat cynically that books like these are written with the printz award in mind this was in response not to this book but to marcelo in the real world when i remarked that it would sell uite easily to an adult audience so i wondered why it was being marketed at teen fiction this book as is i think would not do so well as an adult fiction title but the care that went into writing it and the multilayeredness of it it is certainly ambitious than many of the other titles intended for a teen audience and i say three cheers the voice of this book is excellent the main character is very well drawn for teen audience or otherwise but tying together race issues struggles with poverty women's issues a true crime story and a family drama just makes for a muddled focus that you don't necessarily notice during the reading but afterwards there is a lot of hm wonder what happened to thus and suchit's just too much content i love that she based this whole story around the murder that inspired an american tragedy but i think even without that storyline this would have been a wonderful novel of a girl with aspirations above her gender and financial situation torn between her family and her ambition with a strong subplot about her best friend's struggles with racial ineuality in his own life done call it a dayi did love the french canadian uncle very very familiar voice there but many other elements seemed too fleeting i would have liked resolution with some of the storylines but overall this was a very fine novel and i won't get mad if it tries to sneak onto my shelves again i won't let it stay but i won't frown at it i will give it a soft oh you scamp kind of lookcome to my blog

  2. says:

    Last year I used to go every day to the library of the bank where my dad works at ain't that a mouthful or what?—I was homeschooled and it was the perfect place to study for upcomin’ exams There I stumbled upon a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version book which basically features up to 4 abridged books in one volume and one of the novels it featured was A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly which I later found out was called A Northern Light in the states Since I am the ueen of procrastination I began reading it and soon was so swept away by the beautiful story I couldn’t stop until I was finished And when I did reached the ending I loved it so much I was actually CRYING and doing my best not to cheer aloud since I was in you know a librarySo when I got the chance to order some books from some time ago I had only a uota of four books and I selected this one first up My sister was confused since she couldn’t understand why I was ordering a novel I’d already read when I could order a new very highly anticipated one That’s because I love this novel so much it was never even a uestion I’d get a copy for myself And soon after it arrived I began reading it tossing away the resolution to not before exams see exams never seem to end in my life It was just too tempting And the bookWOW The condensed version did NOT do it justice Because I savored every single word of it and only fell even in love with it so much that it’s officially my No 1 favorite book EVER Hands Down And if you know me you’ll know it’s not very easy to get that title But that’s just my history with the book And now I’ll review it and hopefully I’ll do it justice so that you’ll go read and fall in love with it too I mean it DID win the Carnegie Medal was a Michael L Printz Honor book and fetched numerous blurbs as well as starred reviews which in itself makes it a must read bookThe first time I read this novel I was a bit puzzled by the simplicity of the prose At that time I believed you needed to use Big Words often to be a good writer thank you Steph Meyer and this novel barely employed any And I was struck by how despite this the novel read so beautifully And that’s when I learned that the best kind of writing is not the Overwrought Kind but the one that seems utterly effortless Mattie is a lover of all things literature and you wouldn’t believe how well the author has incorporated this fact into the story This book pretty much nails the rule of ‘show not tell’ Every day Mattie learns a new word its origins and all and does her best to use it in that day And a fellow word lover meself actually I can safely bet that whoever’s reading this review is also fond of words right? I loooved this aspectAnd you can see how much she loved words through the following passages Well it seems to me that there are books that tell stories and then there are books that tell truthsThe 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 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 booksI bet not one of them will tell you what cancer smells like I don't mean to be coarse I justI 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 I had looked around I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and besides I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains And the silver moon of winter so high and blinding I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn I’d seen them and loved them But I’d also seen the dark of things The starved carcasses of winter deer The driving fury of a blizzard wind And the gloom that broods under the pines always Even on the brightest of days What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks Books Not just one or two dozen but hundreds of them In crates In piles on the floor In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room I turned around and around in a slow circle feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave I was breathless close to tears and positively dizzy with greedThe setting is so so vivid and I felt as if I were really transported back to the early 1900s In the same way I felt like I personally knew every character And their feelings They all mirrored mine so perfectly it was almost creepy Especially how bad Mattie's got it for Royal her spankin’ good looking neighbor regardless of the fact that I knew how hopeless it was I distinctly remember the first time round I read this book how my heart both soared with hers and then came crashing down when things got roughAnd it’s not just this Mattie yearning to be both an educated woman and eventually an author as well as have a family and a loving husbandit was so very relatable Especially since I often go through the same dilemma even in this day and age thanks to the backward society I’m from I remember this uote really affected me And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn't have written even one poem if she'd had two howling babies a husband bent on jamming another one into her a house to run a garden to tend three cows to milk twenty chickens to feed and four hired hands to cook for I knew then why they didn't marry Emily and Jane and Louisa I knew and it scared me I also knew what being lonely was and I didn't want to be lonely my whole life I didn't want to give up on my words I didn't want to choose one over the other Mark Twain didn't have to Charles Dickens didn'tSo yeah that’s my review Jennifer Donnelly is now one of my all time fave authors and her novel Revolution also definitely deserves to be read In fact if you read both and compare then you’ll be seriously shocked the same author penned both books I mean yes they’re both at least partially historical but that’s kind of as far as the similarities go

  3. says:

    The Hook When I worked in the library I often recommended A Northern Light to older young adults or even adults looking for a good historical fiction book Now mind you librarians cannot read every book in a library but we pay attention to reviews awards and patron comments I had never read A Northern Light but could book talk it based on the above criteria and never heard any complaints In fact most who had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly picked up The Tea Rose or other of her books that were written later Now retired my library held a Winter Reading Lingo If you got a Lingo the library would donate 3 food items to our local soup kitchen In addition they would add up to 5 other food items for books read I was determined I would meet that goal but was having trouble getting the Lingo All I needed to win was a YA book A few weeks before this my Gr friend Pamela had read and reviewed A Northern Light reminding me that I had always meant to read this Once again serendipity The Line ”Why isn’t real life like book life?” The SinkerA Northern Light is many things What seemed the most important to me was following one’s dreams having the fortitude to believe they can come true even under the most disheartening set backs With the beautiful backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains in the year 1906 we find Mattie Gokey yearning for a life other than the one she is living Her mother has passed away her older brother has left home her father is distant and there are other younger siblings needing care and feeding Mattie wants than this dreary farm life as does her colored friend Weaver Together they share the love of words choosing one new one each day to challenge the other Somehow they both intend to wind their way to college if only While they are both working at the elouent Glen on Big Moose Lake that summer a young woman’s body is found drowned on its banks It’s my hope that uoting the opening paragraph gives you a sample of the uality of the writing Just lovely throughout ”When summer comes to the North Woods time slows down And some days it stops altogether The sky gray and lowering for much of the year becomes an ocean of blue so vast and brilliant you can’t help but stop what you’re dong—pinning wet sheets to the line maybe or shucking a bushel of corn on the back steps—to stare up at it Locusts whir in the birches coaxing you out of the sun and under the boughs and the heat stills the air heavy and sweet with the scent of balsam” I listened and read A Northern Light and give high marks to the narrator Hope Davis for capturing the varied emotions of youth and giving voice to the many characters who comprise this gem4 shooting stars

  4. says:

    Rating 45 Review Words fail me sometimes I have read most every book in the Webster's Dictionary of the English language but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get a cold sick feeling deep down inside when you know something is happening that will change you and you don't want it to but you can't stop it And you know for the first time for the very first time that there will be a before and an after a was and a will be And that you will never again uite be the same person you were This is the story of Mattie sixteen years old and full of the passion and need to express herself to find her true voice and to break out of the mold that could trap her into a role of doing what others want for her This historic YA novel set in 1906 weaves in the true crime story of young and hopeful Grace Brown who was cruelly drowned and murdered by her lover and who left behind a legacy of love letters so sad and tragic Mattie is so deeply affected by this horrific event that it changes her life's path and her dreams foreverI discovered this Printz Honor awarded novel when I was placing Jennifer Donnelly's newest novel These Shallow Graves on hold at the library This is such a beautifully moving story character driven with so many different events happening that I was very involved in this time period of 1905 1906 in the setting of the Adirondack Mountains There are many deep elements at play which include the racism of the time period made all the personal by Mattie's friend Weaver and his mother who undergo such hardships even though they are not under any circumstances slaves There is the beauty of family and there is also an ugliness that is portrayed that can occur during times of extreme poverty There is also the implication that young girls especially those with little means had a narrow choice of marrying while University and careers were still a luxury that not many could afford Mattie has such a tremendous desire to become a published writer but her circumstances may prevent those dreams from ever coming to fruition There are actually two stories of Mattie being told in alternating chapters one when she comes face to face with Grace Brown's murder and the next is told a year before as Mattie attends school and helps her father out with her siblings and the farm A sweet romance develops which completely adds to the story and gives Mattie a new way of looking at the world of appreciating things other than bookish words and uotes I highly recommend this coming of age mystery that adults and young adults alike will appreciateA final uote from the incredible Jennifer Donnelly Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat but the feelings that come from your words

  5. says:

    I rate one star not because I didn't like it but because there is a nauseating amount of this genre book in existence The genre of a bookish misunderstood girl who fights against the strictures of society so that she can be a liberated woman The genre of book where the author tries to set the world straight on what a girl should do with her life and how she should be treated The most galling is that the author writes the protagonist Mattie as disliking books with happy endings but then proceeds to write a happy ending for Mattie If the author were to hold true to form Mattie would stay in her back woods home marry the boy that loves her for the wrong reasons and learn how to deal with a lifetime of disappointment crying children and exhausting work Now that is something worth reading and pondering on like Willa Cather's O Pioneers where the protagonist makes peace with shattered expectations The author of A Northern Light freuently conjured works of worthy literature as though she was trying to snare the reader into believing her book was similarly worthy it wasn't I'm still waiting for the book about the girl who wants the glory of the stars but chooses the drudgery of the earth that will be a story worth reading

  6. says:

    Sweet 16 SPOILERThat book was a trip down memory lane I had forgotten how it feels to be 16 17 and dream about the future I remember myself growing up on a beautiful island with my family I often seeked solitude and I always had a feeling I was supposed to live some place different When I left the island I took all these memories and stories from home with me Just like Mattie Definitely a page turnerI believe these things With all my heart For I am good at telling myself lies

  7. says:

    Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy Jennifer Donnelly's novel effortlessly weaves romance history and a murder mystery into something moving and real and wholly original I'm borrowing the blurb for this story for one reason Why? you ask Because this book was NOTHING like I thought it would be based on the summary Now that doesn't mean that I didn't love it because I absolutely did It just means that I thought the murder would be integral to the story Wait It was wholly integral to the story Yes ultimately But in a totally different way than I expected And that my friends is what made this story so wonderful something moving and real and wholly originalBecause ultimately this is simply the story of Mattie Gokey a sixteen year old girl the eldest of four daughters being cared for by a grieving father who lost the love of his life and is too lost in his grief to see that his girls are suffering as well They live a Little House on the Prairie life one where you get up with the chickens never ending chores are important than education and you all share an outhouseIt's also a time where many female authors were considered scandalous and their books if you could get them needed to be hidden Mattie was born a writer through and through Ms Donnelly doesn't just tell us this it is evident in the way that Mattie thinks and in most everything she says And it is most evident in the way she sees the world Mattie is a voracious reader—she even reads her beloved dictionary daily giving us many words of the day throughout the book and using them in various situations She also word duels with her best friend Weaver She uses her words to describe the tragedy she sees all around her although she does her best to not be weighed down by itAbove all esle I found Mattie to be a pragmatist Sure she has hopes and dreams ones she could only share with Weaver—who also had big dreams of becoming a lawyer even though he was a black male in a time of extreme racial prejudice—because she knew that a girl in her situation had no business dreaming of becoming a writer in New York City After all she had promised her dying mother she would never leave and she had a duty to help her pa with the chores and with raising her younger sistersThe story that unfolds around these facts of life is sweet poignant and real just like Mattie herself The way that she sees novels is all you need to know 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 villians getting what they deserve and the hero seeing what a fool he's been and marrying the heroine and happy endings and all that But the second kind they show you life like it is The first kind makes you cheerful and contented but the second kind shakes you upA Northern Light shows you life like it is And in this instance it is a beautiful thing

  8. says:

    “I had looked around I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and besides I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains And the silver moon of winter so high and blinding I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn I’d seen them and loved them But I’d also seen the dark of things The starved carcasses of winter deer The driving fury of a blizzard wind And the gloom that broods under the pines always Even on the brightest of days” Mattie’s voice is incredibly poetic and even the simplest descriptions can give goose bumps; however I think it is also very important to note that her voice is not superfluous or affected I never cringe with the insincerity of a passage or the discomfort of a moment heavy with artificial contrived descriptions The story describes Mattie’s coming of age at the turn of the century in a family of four girls who have just lost their mother to cancer and whose brother has run away The backdrop of the narrative is the famous murder that also inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy although voice is only given to the murdered girl through letters she gave to Mattie and asked to burn An overarching theme of the novel is the denial of this dead girl’s voice the loss of her story through murder and the impact this has on Mattie’s own life decisions Mattie must decide between fulfilling her dying mother’s plea that she care for her little sisters marrying the handsome young farmer and accepting life forever in Herkimer County or going off alone to NYC in order to go to college I also enjoyed this novel so much because all of the characters are fully realized and authentic Mattie has two best friends Weaver the only black boy in the entire county and who also has a scholarship for college and Minnie who has just married and is now pregnant She also has a new teacher Miss Wilcox who supports Mattie’s writing with intensity and has dark secrets of her own What is wonderful about these characters is that they are not just props they have their own conflicts and their own fears that Donnelly explores through the eyes of Mattie Each of Mattie’s sisters has a personality that comes off the page; and her father is one of the strongest characters in the story Every individual Mattie comes into contact with is a real person and it makes the novel so much meaningful Even Mattie’s mother who has died before the story begins is given detail and life – she is not just a source of sadness or a plot device One of my most favorite moments is when Mattie describes a special ritual just the two of them shared Sometimes she would pick a basketful of berries in the afternoon and set them sun warmed and fragrant on the kitchen table along with a dish of fresh cream and one of maple sugar We would dip them first into the cream then in the sugar and then bite into them greedily Somehow they always tasted of than themselves They tasted like my pa whistling as he came in from the fields at night or like a new calf getting to its feet for the first time or like Lawton telling us ghost stories around the fire I think that what they tasted of was happiness 301 I just love the idea of tasting happiness what could be lovelier?

  9. says:

    A Northern Light is one of those books you come across every few years; the type of novel that buries itself in your heart from the first page and simply lingers in your thoughts for days weeks and even months afterward Although I've probably read at least two books and three novellas since I set this story down it has still been in the forefront of my thoughts I will likely tell my parents to yell at Jennifer Donnelly if they want someone to blame for my bad grades and sleepless nights After all how could I have done anything with my life until I knew what happened in Mattie's? And now how can I possible continue do anything without her voice by my side? It's the cruelest kind of paradox one that only arrives when you love a protagonist as much as this one Without a doubt A Northern Light is very possibly the best book I've read and will read this yearPrior to having read A Northern Light the only Donnelly novel I'd read was Revolution which made me sit up till 3 AM wracked with sobs while I finished the book Now let me tell you that was not a fun reading experience I had swollen cheeks red eyes and an aching heart by the end of it Needless to say I or less swore off of Donnelly after that Any author whose words had that type of power over me was dangerous uite thankfully though a lovely review convinced me to pick this one up and I'm so very glad I did A Northern Light is a uiet unassuming sort of tale one that is filled with courage and strength and hope instead of despair and death and loss It isn't always a happy story but it is a truthful one; it never glosses over the harsh realities of life especially for women of the time and it faithfully empowers women in a manner that is never overbearing merely subtleDonnelly's A Northern Light is told cleverly with two timelines neatly converging into one creating an ending that is both satisfying and powerful When the novel begins the body of a drowned woman Grace Brown is found near the inn where Mattie works Shortly before leaving for her boat ride Grace gave Mattie a bundle of letters to burn but just hours later Grace herself is found dead Mattie suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death begins to read the letters Grace gave her As the contents of these letters are slowly revealed so is Mattie For every present day chapter there are even chapters from the past not only detailing Mattie's journey but also showing who she really is Mattie's story takes place in the early 1900s a time when women were expected to run a household and raise a family Mattie however yearns to attend college despite the fact that her mother recently died and her father needs her help on their farm Although there are many other responsibilities Mattie has from the beginning itself it is hard not to root for her After all this is a protagonist whose love for language pushes her to learn a new word from the dictionary everyday And though I regard A Northern Light to be a tale that empowers women and celebrates feminism Mattie herself is no Alice Paul Instead what makes her such an endearing and unforgettable protagonist are first and foremost her passions and secondly her own inner battles While society pushes Mattie towards a life of love and comfort in a house with children her own heart begins to push her that way too which makes the decision to chase her dream that much difficult All the Mattie is not a perfect character Although one of her best friends is an African American boy who is on his way to Columbia Mattie doesn’t always treat her own family properly In fact these family dynamics are what make the novel so fascinating what make us keep flipping these pages frantically Will Mattie convince her father to allow her to go to college? Can the inspirational teacher Mattie had help her in this endeavor? Is Mattie really going to be tied down to her small town by a promise she once made to her dying mother? In such a subtle manner Donnelly uses Mattie’s life to build her era Instead of paragraphs of bland information Mattie’s society is build around her and stems from her perceptions making this the best kind of historical fiction there is – the kind that doesn’t feel like fiction at all In all honesty though I can keep prattling on about this book for days if you’d allow me Mattie is such a vivacious strong and courageous character that her story captures you from the beginning You yearn for her to fulfill her dreams for her to realize her true calling in life and pursue it despite what others may say You begin to pray that she will somehow escape her small town and farm life You keep the book aside and tie your hands behind your back because you don’t want to know what happens even though you really do but you’re so very scared of the outcome You begin to hope feverishly that her love for her family will not cause her to disregard her love for words; that she will finally gain the opportunity to do what she wants to do It’s a beautiful book the kind you’ll always carry around with you – in your heart

  10. says:

    I don’t uite understand why this book hasn’t caught my attention earlier It is excellently written features a strong and likable heroine and perfectly captures her hopes and fears in an era so different to our own It touches on a lot of issues – racial injustice the situation of women at the beginning of the 20th century poverty and family ties – and it does so in a very realistic way It doesn’t look at things through rose coloured glasses and it certainly doesn’t offer an ending with a bow safely tied around all problems but that is just the way I prefer endings with books like these Life seldom offers cure allsAt its core though this book is a book about women and the problems they faced the restrictions imposed on them the difficult decisions they had to make in order to fulfil their dreams and the conseuences these decisions so often had It follows Mattie a sixteen year old girl dreaming of going to college in New York City and becoming a famous writer Unfortunately Mattie’s family situation doesn’t allow for dreams Her mother died of cancer her older brother has run away and her father has lost all his joy of living Money is tight Mattie is reuired to care for her younger sisters and help at the farm and expected to marry soon and become a farmer’s wife Her father refuses to acknowledge the chances New York offers for her Mattie is torn between wanting to be there for her family and wanting to make her dreams come true Working at the Glen hotel gives her the chance to earn her tuition but will she be able to leave everyone she loves behind?Told in alternating chapters – past and present merging towards the end loved this style A Gathering Light brilliantly captures the hopes and dreams of a young woman and the general feeling of the era and time Mattie’s voice is spot on; the language is poetic but not overly so and evokes an overall feeling of nostalgia of things ending new ones beginning of lost hopes and lost chances with just the right amount of humour and lightnessThe mystery revolving around a young woman drowning in the lake is not so much a mystery but so just the most important one of the many episodes Mattie encounters on her way that help her make her decision at the endThis book is not weighed down by an all consuming love story but I would have wished for the romance to be a bit romantic and for me to actually be involved in it It is important to Mattie but it was pretty clear for me as the reader that her choice would never make her happy – even if she wanted to believe otherwise Random things I loved Mattie’s word of the day ritual and the word wars she fought with her friend Weaver Cook the cook Miss Wilcox’s library so jealous and the way the girls dealt with the guy from table sixSomething I wanted to add I've only read one other book by Jennifer Donnelly Revolution and it's amazing to see how different the two books are in voice I loved both of them but I really applaud Jennifer Donnelly for successfully capturing two heroines who are poles apart