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A Northern Light

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  31,542 Ratings  ·  3,044 Reviews
Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this Printz Honor Book effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original.
Hardcover, 396 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by Perfection Learning (first published April 1st 2003)
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Katie I wouldn't let a 5th grader read this. There is some swearing & in addition to the scene Adrienne mentioned, there is also indecent exposure.
Kiah rosendale The book is called a gathering light in Europe but is the same book as a northern light.
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Community Reviews

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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
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
The Hook - When I worked in the library I often recommended A Northern Light to older young adults or even adults looking for a good historical fiction book. Now mind you, librarians cannot read every book in a library but we pay attention to reviews, awards and patron comments. I had never read A Northern Light but could book talk it based on the above criteria and never heard any complaints. In fact most who had never read anything by Jennifer Donnelly picked up The Tea Rose or other of her bo ...more
Jun 18, 2015 Tabetha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.5 Review: "Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every book in the Webster's Dictionary of the English language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling 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 be a before and an after, ...more
Jun 04, 2008 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult-lit
“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
May 19, 2008 Kirsti rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 01, 2017 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
3.5 stars. Hope Davis narrates audio book (8h 49m)

Jennifer Donnelly's historical fiction/romance books for YA readers are always a real treat. Her female characters tend to be determined, strong-willed, and bookish. In "A Northern Light" we are taken into the rural life of one girl in 20th century America. Sixteen year old Mattie Gokey dreams of a life beyond her vacation resort town and the life of a writer in New York City. But Mattie 's widowed father, her little sisters, and her first love a
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
Gripping, haunting, emotive, and intensely atmospheric. I was quite taken by this novel. From page one, Jennifer Donnelly had me hooked. And though her intended audience is that of young adults, I think it's equally suited for a mature audience with prose that is at times poetically beautiful, and yet, youthful and crisp. There are even moments of diffusing playfulness and humor.

"Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get - a cold, sick feeling deep down inside - when you know so
Oct 04, 2009 Tatiana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical YA fiction
Recommended to Tatiana by: Printz
Shelves: ya, historical, 2010, 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
May 09, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  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
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
Jan 01, 2008 Rosianna rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Nov 15, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-novels
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
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
Jan 17, 2008 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
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
May 15, 2010 Sara rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 18, 2008 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 22, 2016 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: group-reads
This one takes a little time to get some momentum going but once it does, it's good. I think the description is a little misleading. I think it's a more coming of age book than a mystery. I personally think The Tea Rose was a better written story by Donnelly but I think this was maybe her debut novel. With that said, not bad at all.
Naomi Sarah
May 14, 2016 Naomi Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book had some things I could've done without... BUT GAH. It gave me so much writing inspiration and I LOVE WORDS. The end. :-)
Nov 18, 2010 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 22, 2013 Shelley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nina Draganova
Feb 09, 2016 Nina Draganova rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Седя пред екрана и не мога да намеря думи , с които да опиша всичко, което тази книга ме накара да почувствам.
Две истории - едната истинска и изключително тъжна, другата измислена и не по-малко тъжна. Преплетени умело и разказани толкова трогателно.
Как смъртта на една жена се превръща в мотив за началото на различен живот за друга. За трудния избор да поемеш пътя на знанието и свободния живот, по време , когато това е било почти невъзможно,особено за жена.

И извода в книгата , написан с думи ,
Aug 11, 2008 Fiona rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jul 14, 2009 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alissa Patrick
I chose to add this book to my TBR because it was on several lists as one of the Best Children's Books - it is actually an YA historical novel but nevertheless it was a compelling read. It's basically a interesting piece of fiction- about a girl growing up in the Adirondacks in the 1900s who envisions a better life for herself. She loves to read books and learns a new word from the dictionary everyday.

This peaked my interest because #1 I LOVE books about books, and #2 I love reading books about
Mar 15, 2011 Monique rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monique by: Tintin
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
This was a re-read for me since it was my January library book club pick. In the 8 years since having read this book I think I've grown more critical, but I still stand by my original review and rating.

Mattie Gokey is a great heroine and the themes, particularly those of women rights, seem even more important these days. It burns me that this book takes place in 1906 and yet here we are 111 years later still fighting for women's rights. That there are still women in the world, like Maggie, figh
I hated to be away from this book and I was sad to finish it. Mattie is an enchanting character and the story is all the stuff Little House by Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn't mention. The terror of watching a woman you love have a difficult birth, the disgusting things that happen to those with grippe, the pain of losing a mother to an illness.
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A northern light 3 9 Jan 19, 2017 09:43PM  
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Jennifer Donnelly is the author of eleven novels - Lost in a Book, These Shallow Graves, Sea Spell, Dark Tide, Rogue Wave, Deep Blue, 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 Liter ...more
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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.” 668 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.” 339 likes
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