A Northern Light

by Jennifer Donnelly

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ve been pretty quiet over here but not for lack of reading.  I have a long list of books I plan to put up now that my class is over and the first ties in well with the main reason I’ve been overwhelmed.  A good friend of mine, a children’s librarian, passed away at the beginning of November quite suddenly at the age of 42.  She and I loved to spend hours pawing through the books at the nearby bookstores, talking about favorites and making recommendations.  One book that she mentioned over and over was A Northern Light.

The book follows a year in the life of Mattie Gokey, the oldest of four sisters who lost their mother to cancer (and their older brother left home too).  We are flipped back and forth between summer 1906 and the previous winter.  In winter, Mattie and her friend Weaver are finishing up high school and applying to colleges, even though Mattie knows that she won’t go.  Even if her family had the money, she promised her mother she would stay to take care of them.  She wouldn’t even be allowed to work at the resort, the biggest thing near her small town in Maine, that summer to make money for the train ride.  But when we jump ahead to summer, there she is at the resort, making money and in the middle of a murder mystery.  How she gets there, and what she’ll do when fall comes (go to college, stay home, marry her neighbor Royal who may or may not have ulterior motives) were the real mystery I was solving.

I liked the feminism in this book but appreciated that it was not easy for Mattie to change everything she’d ever known.  It wasn’t a case of 21st century morals in a turn-of-the-(20th)-century book; she really was blown away by her teacher and was processing everything she was seeing and experiencing, especially regarding her relationship with handsome Royal.  The other thing I really liked was that Mattie and Weaver were obsessed with both learning a new word a day from the dictionary and also with having synonym battles – seeing who ran out of words first.

I love some good historical fiction.  I think this book goes right up on the shelf next to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!  Both heroines are smart, independent and determined – and they want more than the hand they’ve been dealt.

1 thought on “A Northern Light

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