A Northern Light
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A Northern Light

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3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  23,574 ratings  ·  2,325 reviews
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 i...more
Paperback, 396 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by HMH Books for Young Readers (first published April 1st 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aleeeeeza
Last year, I used to go every day to the library of the bank where my dad works at (ain't that a mouthful or what?!)—I was homeschooled, and it was the perfect place to study for upcomin’ exams. There I stumbled upon a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version book, which basically features up to 4 abridged books in one volume, and one of the novels it featured was A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (which I later found out was called A Northern Light in the states). Since I am the queen of procrast...more
karen
this monday-morning float is for you, alfonso!

oh, a northern light, you were way better than i expected. i used to get really angry at this book, because it would come up in resort all the time and some people would just shelve it in my section because it looks like a grown-up book, not like teen fiction, and i would always have to be yanking it off the shelves and saying "nooooo, you go downstairs!!" like shooing away a mischievous dog.

while i was reading it, i loved it.

a few days after, i am...more
Heather
“I had looked around. I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pi...more
Janina
I don’t quite understand why this book hasn’t caught my attention earlier. It is excellently written, features a strong and likable heroine and perfectly captures her hopes and fears in an era so different to our own. It touches on a lot of issues – racial injustice, the situation of women at the beginning of the 20th century, poverty and family ties – and it does so in a very realistic way. It doesn’t look at things through rose-coloured glasses, and it certainly doesn’t offer an ending with a...more
Kirsti
I rate one star not because "I didn't like it" but because there is a nauseating amount of this genre book in existence. The genre of a bookish, misunderstood girl who fights against the strictures of society so that she can be a liberated woman. The genre of book where the author tries to set the world straight on what a girl should do with her life and how she should be treated. The most galling is that the author writes the protagonist (Mattie) as disliking books with "happy endings" but then...more
Mark
May 21, 2012 Mark rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who can swim
Recommended to Mark by: Helen Farrell
Grace drowned in Big Moose Lake betrayed by love. Mattie drowning in responsibility and weighed down by her sense of duty and others' expectations. Weaver choking on prejudice and small mindedness. Emily fighting to break the surface of her own stifling marriage. Using the framework of the drowning of a young woman in 1906 Jennifer Donnelly gathers up the threads and images present in a poor close knit farming community in the Adirondacks and uses it like a loom to weave together a complex patte...more
Paul
This isn't my normal fare and I'm not entirely sure how it ended up on the bookshelf! However for bedtime reading I'm willing to try pretty much anything. This is a coming of age story set in early twentieth century America in New York state in a rural farming community. The author has quite neatly woven the story around an actual historical event; the murder of a young woman called Grace Brown (also the basis of Dreiser's An American Tragedy).
The story revolves around Mattie, who is 16, her fa...more
Tatiana
Sep 13, 2010 Tatiana rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical YA fiction
Recommended to Tatiana by: Printz
An excellent YA novel. It didn't make me bawl my eyes out however, therefore only 4 stars.

Set in 1906, the book follows an important period in a 16-year old girl's life, when she faces the dilemma of what her future will be. Mattie is an aspiring writer and yearns to attend university, but her family responsibilities hinder her dreams. Will she choose to risk it all and try to find her own independence or will she succumb to her family's wishes and abandon her aspirations to instead become a fa...more
Keertana
A Northern Light is one of those books you come across every few years; the type of novel that buries itself in your heart from the first page and simply lingers in your thoughts for days, weeks, and even months afterward. Although I've probably read at least two books and three novellas since I set this story down, it has still been in the forefront of my thoughts. I will likely tell my parents to yell at Jennifer Donnelly if they want someone to blame for my bad grades and sleepless nights. Af...more
Allison (The Allure of Books)
Lyrical. Captivating. Haunting.

All the different facets of this novel add up to make one of the best stories I have ever read. From the very first page, Mattie Gokey's zeal for words makes the pages of the book turn themselves. Weaved throughout Maggie's fictional struggles is the real life story of the death of Grace Brown, as seen through Mattie's brief (and fictional, of course) interaction with her, and letters that she left behind (the letters are real, by the way).

This is not an idyllic co...more
Becky
I love books about booklovers. I love the feeling of connection that I have with people who appreciate books and words the same way that I do. I felt this especially with Mattie, because she loves words and language and writing, but doesn't know exactly how to use those words... they are just built up inside her, preparing her for when she will be able to express herself.

When I started this book, I wasn't sure if I would Love it (with a capital "L") as some of my friends here Loved it. It is ve...more
Rosianna
Jan 04, 2008 Rosianna rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: every girl I know
It wasn't until the very end of this book that I realised exactly how much I loved it. I am unsure if I would call it enjoyable, more like a very well written, intelligent and absorbing read rather than something I would call uplifting. It's definitely haunting, and definitely something everyone should read.
Tina
Original post at One More Page

I was never a big fan of historical novels because in my mind, they're equivalent to classics: slow reading and oftentimes, hard to read. I tend to shy away from any novel set in any part of history that isn't a classic because...well, classics are classics for a reason that's why I feel the need to read them. Historicals are just that, and it doesn't really call my name.

That's just me being a book snob, excuse me there.

But the good reviews of Jennifer Donnelly's bo...more
Fiona
Jun 01, 2009 Fiona rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like reading, who are passionate, and hate banned books!
This is one of my favourite books I have read. It is brilliantly written and the characters so real and truthful.

A Gathering Light, or A Northern Light is based on the real life case of Grace Brown and the letters of her you read within this book are her actual letters.

Around the story of Grace Brown, is the story of Mattie who is one of the most real, memorable characters written I have come across. I love Mattie, she feels real to me and it is as if I really know her. A feeling I am sure she...more
Monique
I was set to giving this book a three-star rating when I happened to read on the Author's Note part that the characters of Grace Brown and Chester Gillette, as well as the facts of Grace's murder in the Adirondacks and the fishing out of her body from the waters of the Big Moose Lake, are actually real people and events. Thus, although the book's main protagonist, Mattie Gokey, was fictional, the novel was actually constructed upon and based on history.

And I have a certain penchant for historic...more
Melissa
I have mixed feelings about this book. Parts were written well; other parts were more of a stretch. Some of the events were extremely predictable; others were a total surprise. Some events and characters seem to have no point in the overall plot, and others that have a greater role in the plot hardly appear at all. Having taken a number of creative writing classes, I know these things to be things most writers avoid. I wouldn’t call this great writing. It is overall an engaging book, but not gre...more
Lisa
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara
It's been a long time since I passionately hated a book as much as this one. The positives: the book is well-written, and the weaving of the fictional story with the real Grace Brown story is skillfully done. The negatives: the book is dark and depressing. The mother dies of cancer in her 30s, which I probably took a little too personally. All of the males but one are scum; there are very few gentlemen, which I don't think is an accurate portrayal of the time. (Sure, there have been cads at all...more
Shelley
This author, and her lead character Mattie, have such a beautiful love of words. Mattie, a sixteen year old girl in 1906 rural New York, has an incredibly intelligent mind, a gentle spirit, and a passion for literature. She is not a farm girl.

Mattie walks us through this story almost as if she is standing beside you, narrating the scene, complete with her meandering thoughts, either analyzing the origins of words, or facing her daily fears and dashed dreams.
Confabulate was my word of the day and
...more
Laura
I can’t even begin to summarize this book. It’s so complex, but I’ll try my best.

It’s 1906 and Mattie Gokey wants to go to college in New York City. There’s only one problem- she’s a girl. Mattie works at the hotel, and Grace Brown gives her a packet of letters to burn. Mattie forgets, and the next day Grace’s body is found drowned at the bottom of the pond.

The story alternates between the present and the future until they meet up. I found this book very intriguing, though I must warn that ther...more
Tintin
Mar 15, 2011 Tintin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction aficionados
Shelves: young-adult
This book is all too grippingly real.

16 year old Mattie Gokey is a bookish, hardworking girl with big dreams of going off to New York for college. But her family's poverty holds her back. She is torn between following her dream and staying to help her family; between making her own way in the world and getting married and inevitably stuck in the rural town she desperately wants to leave.

Set 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, Jennifer Donnelly paints the life and people of the...more
Caroline
Aug 21, 2007 Caroline rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Caroline by: Karina
A co-worker of mine had been telling me to read this book for years, but I kept putting it off, thinking it didn't look all that interesting. I finally picked it up, and just couldn't stop reading it! The narration style is very powerful, told from the point of view of a young girl that is trying to make a decision between staying on her family's farm like she promised her mother she would, or to go to New York City to go to college.

At the same time, she is also reading the letters of Grace Brow...more
Sarah
Disliked this book for three reasons:

1. Mattie irritated me. She was supposed to be so smart but I thought she was stupid, I'd figured out the big 'mystery' by the second page but she was clueless until nearly the end.
2. Weaver also annoyed me. I mean yes he was discriminated against and treated badly, blah blah, but I felt no pity for him because he so obviously pitied himself enough for both of us. His constant self-righteous rage made me want to smack him.
3. I thought the writer was projecti...more
Summer {is puntastic}
I don't know when the last time was that I've given a book the ultimate glory of being rated 5 stars, but A Northern Light really is fitting for this. Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, but as of late, I haven't exactly been blown away by any of the previous books.

This book has stolen the title of being one of my favorite historical fiction books not only this year, but of my entire life. The main character is lovable, the mystery is gripping, and the writing superb....more
Jess Michaelangelo
If I could choose one word to describe this novel, it would be "delicious." (And I'm sure Mattie would beat me in a word duel over that!)

I say "delicious" because Jennifer Donnelly has a beautiful voice, and it really shows here. Whether it be a description of life on the farm, the simple joys of a simple life, or the characters themselves, the entire story seemed so real. The reader can smell the strawberries, hear the braying cows, and see the pain across a character's face. It makes this nov...more
Louisa
A Northern Light, in my humble opinion, is one of those rare books that make you happy to be able to read and appreciate realistic if occasionally heartbreaking character growth. Mattie has to be one of the best contemporary YA female protagonists I've come across in a while, partly because, being set in 1906, women's rights are miles behind what it is today, but she's just generally someone I could empathise with.

I thought this particular quote really struck home:

"Well, it seems to me that the
...more
Linna
This was absolutely amazing. Beautiful and brilliant. By the second-last paragraph I had chills running down my spine.

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes you'll open a random book to the first page and know that it'll be good. By the first sentence the writing draws you in and never lets you go. I can't even start to describe how great this book is written, but it flows seamlessly, lyrical and haunting, funny and down to earth but filled with emotions and vivid images. It's like a work o...more
Amy
Jun 18, 2007 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is a delightful read full of thoughtful and realistic characters. The setting is loosely based on the murder of a women in Upstate New York that also inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. The main story revolves around a young girl who desperately wants to go to college and whose family is desperately poor. The story creates a vivid portrait of rural life in the Adirondacks and the sharp distinction of pursuing your dreams and being loyal to your family and sometimes having...more
April
Mattie Gokey dreams of a life where she is not bound by the confines of her small Catskills town. This beautifully worded historical fiction novel explores feminism, education, familial duty and the crossroads between being a girl and a woman.
Read the rest of my review here
Jan
Once in a while you come across a book that speaks to you in a very deep way – a book that makes you feel like you have come home and you can curl up and stay there forever. This was one of those rare books for me. I listened to the audio version and loved it so much that I started it over immediately and listened to it all again.

Mattie is a lover of books and has a dream to become a writer. She loves words so much that she chooses a new word each day to learn and ponder over. She dreams of goi...more
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Jennifer Donnelly is the author of five novels - Revolution, A Northern Light, The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose and The Wild Rose - and Humble Pie, a picture book for children. She grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester where she majored in English Literature and European History.

Jennifer’s first novel, The Tea Rose, an epic historical...more
More about Jennifer Donnelly...
Revolution The Tea Rose (The Tea Rose, #1) The Winter Rose (The Tea Rose, #2) The Wild Rose (The Tea Rose, #3) Deep Blue (Waterfire Saga, #1)

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“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get--a cold sick feeling, deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were.” 591 likes
“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.” 297 likes
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