Meghan's Reviews > A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
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Sep 12, 10

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010-read, nerdy-girls-book-club
Read in September, 2010

During our recent vacation to Eagle Bay in New York, I learned about the Theodore Drieser Novel, An American Tradegy and that the event had taken place in and around the area we were. I searched in vain at the local bookstores for a copy Drieser's novel but apparantly all the tourists were looking to read it as well. While at the local bookshops I did see A Northern Light. Oddly, I had it stuck in my head that I couldn't read this one until I read Drieser. But back in Texas I came across a Northern Light at our Half Price store (actually two copies, which made it easier to talk Chandra in to reading it with me).

Northern Light is based on the Big Moose Lake murder case of 1906, a real event, but unlike Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, also based on the murder, Donnelly's book is concerned more with the life of a young girl, Mattie Gokey, who gets caught up in it.

I may have to come back and rate this one again as I am torn between a 3 and a 4 star. I think my 4 star rating is based on my personal experiences during vacation; hearing stories about the pickle boat, riding the train that took the wealthy NYers to Raquette Lake, driving around Moose Lake, and hanging out in Inlet. The camp we stayed at was bought in the early 1900s; it was a piece of sampt land on the lake. The owner's grandfather bought a large piece of land and slowly sold off the pieces that were farther away from the lake and with each sale he used the money to build the camp and the 6 cottages that remain today. He had to work the land and bring in sand to create the beach that sat at every day and enjoyed watching the ducks, the kids swim, and breeze off the lake. Donnelly brings to life what the world was like in the North Woods in 1906 in great detail and it made me cherish our experiences just a little bit more.

Donnelly develops her story by starting us in the present, then taking us a back a few months and continues to mix the two timeframes until they eventually catch each other at the end of the story. It worked well and while there were a few times toward the end that I got a little confused where I was in the story, I like how she wove it all together. My one gripe, which may be weak, is that while I had a sense of who the characters were, I never felt like I was given enough description to actually envsion them. The characters are believable and I liked/disliked them but I never had an good image of Mattie, Weaver, or Cook walking around in my head.

During our 2010 visit to the North Woods, we loved being remote and celebrated the fact that we were cut-off from our modern conveniences (cell phones, internet) for a week. I couldn't help but wonder during the book what Mattie, who wants out of Eagle Bay so badly, would think of us. I definitely felt like I was the tourist of 1906 that the town hated but had to love because of the money they brought in during the summer.

This book has won several awards and I would definitely recommend it. I am going to spend some more time pondering it (which I think is a good thing). I am eager to hear what the other 1/2 of the Nerdy Girls thinks of this one.
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