Kate's Reviews > A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
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Young Mattie Gokey is a maid at the Adirondack Mountains' Glenmore Hotel and is thrust into the center of a mystery when one of the guests is found drowned in the lake. The deceased, Grace Brown, has given Mattie a bundle of letters to destroy, and Mattie has never gotten around to doing so. As she begins to read the letters, she learns the truth about Grace and her lover, Chester Gillette.

Mattie also struggles in her own life, her desire to leave the North Woods and become a student and a writer pulling her in one direction, while the needs of her own family pull her in the other. She is further pulled by her friend Weaver, a boy her age who wants to become a lawyer and is encouraging Mattie to follow him to New York City, and Royal Loomis, who wants to marry Mattie and buy a farm.

Having grown up in the Adirondacks, this really appealed to me. And while reading the book, I was excited to read a lot of towns (Old Forge, Croghan, Inlet, Port Leyden) that I knew from growing up. In her acknowledgements, the author even mentions Cranberry Lake, where our library was located when I was growing up. So I absolutely loved the book for that reason--it made me nostalgic for home. And while it probably was not the author's intention, a lot of the names she used in the story were the names of people who are still living in the Adirondacks. For instance, there is a family in the book called the Hubbards, and I want to school with the Hubbards. Other coincidental names such as that lent it an additional air of authenticity. Additionally, I was well aware of the Grace Brown murder, an actual case which was made famous by Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. It's always been a case with which I had an interest, and probably which introduced me to the world of true crime, a somewhat morbid interest I have to this day.

But I also really loved Mattie. I identified with her, a girl trying to decide whether to do what is best for herself or her family. To follow her own passions, which no one around her save her best friend and her teacher, indulge in or understand, or to stay home where she is needed and forgo her adventures in New York City. The book was more than a backwoods story about a bunch of hicks who don't know their asses from their elbows. You felt for these people, from Mattie's Pa trying to raise a bunch of girls without their mother, to dirt poor Emmie, to Weaver and his mother, to the employees of the hotel. A great book, I really enjoyed it, and as Mattie loves to play a word game with Weaver in which she looks up a new word every day, I learned some new words to expand my vocabulary. And I loved that Mattie made up her own words as well. Limicolous or terricipation, anyone?
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