About the Book:
It’s 1906, and Mattie Gokey lives in the Adirondacks of New York State with her father and younger sisters. Her mother is has recently passed away, and it’s up to Mattie to run the household while her father tries to keep the family farm alive. Mattie dreams of attending college in New York City when she finishes high school, a dream she shares with her best friend, Weaver. Mattie loves words, picking a new one to focus on each day, and longs to spend her days writing stories instead of keeping house.
But as tempting as the prospect of college is, there are things holding Mattie back. Her family needs the extra pair of hands, even if her father would allow her to go to college, which he won’t. And there’s Royal Loomis, the boy next door who just might capture Mattie’s heart.
Told in flashbacks, A Northern Light moves between recent days in Mattie’s past and her present, when, while working at the Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake, a suspicious death occurs and Mattie comes to possess a pack of letters from which, try as she might, she cannot escape.
I enjoyed A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly very much. Having lived in upstate New York, many of the places were familiar to me. I also love historical fiction, when it’s well done, which A Northern Light most definitely is. The tension between Mattie’s recent past and her present kept me holding my breath until the final pages, wondering how the story would end. I’d expected, based on the beginning, that the novel would be something of a mystery, but instead it was very much about Mattie herself.
Mattie is everything you could want in a heroine. She is bookish and clever, but still a little clueless when it comes to certain matters. She’s just proud and ambitious enough, yet accurately limited by her time and situation. She struggles to balance what she wants to do and what she feels she must do. She grows, changes, stumbles, adapts. I rooted for her all the way through. She’s so very human I just couldn’t help myself. And she rewards the reader for her (or his) trust and faith.
The novel is based on an actual murder that took place on Big Moose Lake in 1906 and was the inspiration for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. I’ve not read Dreiser’s novel, but knowing Mattie’s tale was woven around a piece of history made it more real.
The audio production was splendid, narrated by Hope Davis. Her voice is full and mature, yet she still managed to sound young without reading in the squeaky, breathless way in which some readers portray younger narrators. The voice Davis chose to use matched my mental picture of Mattie well. I would most highly recommend the audiobook to anyone interested. It’s a story that works well for teens, of course, but as an adult I found it to be wonderful as well. And if you read and loved Donnelly’s more recent novel, Revolution…all I can say is I liked A Northern Light even better!