2009: 39. A Northern Light

"When summer comes to North Woods, time slows down.  And some days it stops altogether."

A Northern Light, Jennifer Donnelly

The reason I chose to re-read this young adult novel is because it is based in part on the real-life story that An American Tragedy was based on.   But on reading it, I actually found that aspect to be secondary to the fictional parts, and it was the fictional parts that wowed me.  It is the story of Mattie Gokey who dreams of going to college and becoming a writer, but has little hope of reaching her goals.  Her mother has died recently, and as the oldest child (after her brother has run off) she is trying to raise her sisters, keep their farm going and deal with their father, who is miserable.  Life in upstate New York is hard, and day-to-day, and her dreams can’t live up to the hand to mouth life of their farm.  However, after a summer working in a hotel to raise some money she briefly meets Grace Brown*, a desperate young woman who asks her to burn some of her letters.  When Grace’s body is found in the lake, and her boyfriend has disappeared, Mattie reads the letters and starts to suspect that it might just be murder.   


This isn’t a suspense novel, but rather a story of how one girl’s terrible tragedy leads another to take charge of her life.  And while there are some really overdone cliches in this book (i.e. Mattie has a black friend - in 1906? I am so sure.  And OF course she wants to be a writer - they all do), the emotions behind this are so real and true, that the book is really a lovely read.  I would read more books by Donnelly in a heartbeat.


*Grace Brown is the real-life girl whose murder by her boyfriend was the basis of Dreiser’s novel.


Date/Place Completed:  March 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Young Adult, Re-Read

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017