A Northern Light


A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly book cover

A Northern Light
By Jennifer Donnelly

Mattie has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true with her entire family depending on her after her mother's death. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore Hotel, trying to save what she can for an education in the city. Life spins out of control when a hotel guest named Grace gives Mattie a bundle of secret letters to burn and ends up drowned the next morning in the community lake.


Genre:

Set in early 1900's, Mystery, Philosophical-Societal Issues, Family Struggle




Why this is a Good Book For Teenage Girls

A Northern Light is a good book for teenage girls because Mattie is faced with choices that will change the path of her life, and like the rest of us, some of her choices are good while others are questionable. Where this takes her and the murder mystery that is unfolding alongside events in her life make this book an excellent read.




A Northern Light book trailer




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.



About the Author

JENNIFER DONNELLY is the author of a novel for adult readers, The Tea Rose, and a picture book, Humble Pie. For A Northern Light, her first teen novel, she drew on stories she heard from her grandmother while growing up in upstate New York. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York.




From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up-Mattie Gokey, 16, a talented writer, promised her dying mother that she would always take care of her father and younger siblings. She is stuck on a farm, living in near poverty, with no way of escaping, even though she has been accepted at Barnard College. She promises to marry handsome Royal Loomis even though he doesn't appear to love her. Now, Mattie has promised Grace Brown, a guest at the Adirondack summer resort where she works, to burn two bundles of letters. Then, before she can comply, Grace's body is found in the lake, and the young man who was with her disappears, also presumably drowned. This is a breathtaking tale, complex and often earthy, wrapped around a true story. In 1906, Grace Brown was killed by Chester Gillette because she was poor and pregnant, and he hoped to make his fortune by marrying a rich, society girl. Grace's story weaves its way through Mattie's, staying in the background but providing impetus. The protagonist tells her tale through flashback and time shifts from past to present. Readers feel her fears for her friend Weaver-the first freeborn child in his family-when he is beaten for being black and his college savings are stolen, and enjoy their love of words as they engage in language duels. Finally, they'll experience her awakening when she realizes that she cannot live her life for others. Donnelly's characters ring true to life, and the meticulously described setting forms a vivid backdrop to this finely crafted story. An outstanding choice for historical-fiction fans, particularly those who have read Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy.
Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA
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