Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donelly

Note: This isn't the first book that I've reviewed by Jennifer Donnelly; you can read my review of Revolution here.
image via Goodreads

 “I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you.”

              Mattie Gokey loves words. She learns a new one every day, and secretly writes them  into stories that mingle both dark and light. When the news came that she'd won a scholarship from New York's Barnard College, she was ecstatic at the thought of studying literature.
But she feels trapped.
Her father expects her to stay in the Adirondacks and work on the farm, picking up the pieces that were left when her mother died and her brother left.
She can't figure out her feelings for her neighbor, Royal Loomis, who can't see the point of going to college- or reading, for that matter.
When she gets a job as a maid at the local hotel,  a woman makes her promise to burn her old love letters. Later, the woman is found, dead, in the lake. And Matti still has not burned the letters. From the girl's words, Mattie learns a secret that will not only shock her, but will drive her to decide what to do with her own life.

           I was somewhat leery of the concept of this book at first, because this book is set in 1906 and I thought that Jennifer Donelly would write Mattie with more modern views toward women then would be accurate for the time period. However, this was not the case in the least. Mattie worries about whether her views are right, and  considers marrying Royal over going to college. This book is based on the murder of Grace Brown and the author incorporates the text from the original letters, which adds another element of realism to the story as well.
Mattie is also told that "a young woman...ought to turn her mind to topics more cheerful and inspiring than lonely hermits and dead children" by her teacher, who can't see why Mattie wants to write about the dark side of life as well as the bright side. I enjoyed that Mattie faced opposition in terms of what she wanted to write about, and faced it head-on, not allowing her teacher or anyone else tell her what she should write about.

The characters are engaging, realistic and raw, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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