Sunday, October 12, 2008

Julie's Review: A Northern Light

Summary: It's 1906 and 16-year-old Mattie Gokey is at a crossroads in her life. She's escaped the overwhelming responsibilities of helping to run her father's brokedown farm in exchange for a paid summer job as a serving girl at a fancy hotel in the Adirondacks. She's saving as much of her salary as she can, but she's having trouble deciding how she's going to use the money at the end of the summer. Mattie's gift is for writing and she's been accepted to Barnard College in New York City, but she's held back by her sense of responsibility to her family--and by her budding romance with handsome-but-dull Royal Loomis. Royal awakens feelings in Mattie that she doesn't want to ignore, but she can't deny her passion for words and her desire to write.
At the hotel, Mattie gets caught up in the disappearance of a young couple who had gone out together in a rowboat. Mattie spoke with the young woman, Grace Brown, just before the fateful boating trip, when Grace gave her a packet of love letters and asked her to burn them. When Grace is found drowned, Mattie reads the letters and finds that she holds the key to unraveling the girl's death and her beau's mysterious disappearance. Grace Brown's story is a true one (it's the same story told in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy and in the film adaptation, A Place in the Sun), and author Jennifer Donnelly masterfully interweaves the real-life story with Mattie's, making her seem even more real.

Mattie's frank voice reveals much about poverty, racism, and feminism at the turn of the twentieth century. She witnesses illness and death at a range far closer than most teens do today, and she's there when her best friend Minnie gives birth to twins. Mattie describes Minnie's harrowing labor with gut-wrenching clarity, and a visit with Minnie and the twins a few weeks later dispels any romance from the reality of young motherhood (and marriage). Overall, readers will get a taste of how bitter--and how sweet--ordinary life in the early 1900s could be. Despite the wide variety of troubles Mattie describes, the book never feels melodramatic, just heartbreakingly real.

Review: I believe that Jennifer Donnelly might be my new favorite recently discovered author. While I think that The Winter Rose outshines A Northern Light, it is nonetheless a very intriguing story. It isn't so much the true story that is inter weaved with in the works of fiction, but the fiction story that held my interest. I loved Mattie. I loved her naivety and her soul. I loved her struggle between doing what she promised and making a life for herself. It really wasn't until the end of the story that I was sure what decision she was going to make. I love how Ms. Donnelly made me wait until the last several pages of the novel to tell us the outcome.

I loved the time period that the novel takes place in and the area of the country. I don't know much about the true life story that the book is written around but I could picture The Glenmore clear as the ocean water in my mind. Ms. Donnelly has a way of writing that transports you to the time and place.

I didn't want Mattie to settle for something because it what was normal and expected of her. I wanted her to break out and pursue her dreams. I felt that staying with her dad or marrying Royal would limit her to a life that she really didn't want and truly was too good for. Mattie had choices where as many young women in that day did not. I loved how Miss Wilcox encouraged her. I liked the twist in the story. I loved Mattie's word of the day and think I might need to start that myself to expand my vocabulary.

It did take me a while to get caught up in the story but I'm not sure if that speaks to the book or my CRAZY life right now. I asked Lisa if I should read this one first or The Tea Rose: A Novel, she said A Northern Light. I shall have to ask her why.

If you like historical fiction surrounding real life cases than you will enjoy this one. It's a strong, character driven story; with a very satisfying ending. I still give The Winter Rose a decent edge over this one though because that book hooked me within the first few pages.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Related: Lisa's Review: A Northern Light


Unknown October 12, 2008 at 4:13 PM  

And I will tell you. The Tea Rose is far better and A Northern Light would have felt like a letdown after you read The Tea Rose. That's the only reason really.

Yolanda October 12, 2008 at 4:35 PM  

I have this book and am planning on reading it. Loved the review.

Yolanda October 12, 2008 at 4:35 PM  

I have this book and am planning on reading it. Loved the review.

Julie October 13, 2008 at 10:38 AM  

Thanks Lisa! I thought that might be the case.

Hope you enjoy the book Yolanda!

Marg October 17, 2008 at 6:05 PM  

If I had to choose between this book and The Winter Rose, TWR would win hands down! This one was good, but I do like the way she writes the saga style of books like TWR and The Tea Rose!

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