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A Northern Light

Reviewed by Administrator on March 20, 2014.
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Why isn't life like it is in the books we read?  Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey knows her Dickens and her Austen through and through.  She has a love of words and treasures her dictionary.  But it's 1906 and Mattie is caught in the struggle of her times.  She has earned a scholarship to Barnard College and her good friend, African American Weaver has earned a scholarship to Columbia.  Will their dreams come true? Will they get a happy ending?

You are about to step into the life of Mattie Gokey and you will come to know her town, the hotel where she works and the deep feelings that run through her veins.  Mattie has two truly difficult choices to make.  She holds a pack of letters written by a young guest at the hotel who has turned up dead.  Do the letters hold a truth Mattie does not want to face?  The letters belong to Grace Brown, a nineteen year old girl who was unmarried and pregnant and who really lived.  Her body was found in a lake in the Adirondacks and became one of the most notorious murder trials in New York State history.

Mattie has a choice about her own life's path.   Will she choose to stay close to her family where she is much needed?  Will she marry and keep house and raise children?  Where is her real voice?  Where is the part of her that makes her Mattie Gokey just like Yeat's voice makes Yeat's work unique?

There is a handful of authors who can really inhabit the skin of their characters with such attention to detail that we step into their shoes and walk their walk and feel their challenges and dreams.  Jennifer Donnelly has that rare gift.  She delivers the stench, the conflicts, the romance, the truths of life as a woman at the turn of the 20th century.  This story reads like a series of photographs revealing all the moments of these character's lives with the thoughts, the hopes and the thrills.  Come and meet Mattie.  She will feel like your new best friend and it will be hard to leave the kitchen of the hotel where she works, the brothers and sisters who need her, the father that grieves for his lost wife and son, the romance that captures her, and the future that calls to her in many forms.  Truly delightful.

978-0152167059  Ages 14 and up   400 pages  (language, sexuality)

Recommended by:  Barb

 
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