Amanda's Reviews > A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
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Jul 14, 14

bookshelves: young-adult, historical-fiction, 2011-reads, festus-library
Read from October 07 to 10, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Much much better than Revolution. I'm amazed really that this was written by the same author. This novel has much better characters and while there is SO MUCH going on in terms of issues the author touches on I was able to make a connection with the main character Mattie. Course it helps that she LOVES books and words as much as I do. Her thirst for knowledge is a characteristic I really enjoyed. It is inspiring as well. At one point she describes her teacher Miss Wilcox's library as though she has stumbled upon "Ali Baba's cave" and that she was "breathless, close to tears and positively dizzy with greed."

There is the issue of race with the Weaver as the only black boy in Eagle Bay. His mom is working and saving all her money to get him into college. The character is interesting but there is not a lot covered on him other than his father was killed in front of him and his mom for not having moved from the side walk when three white men told him to. Weaver experiences a similar incident and shows that he follows in the same temper and refuses to take crap from anyone. Unfortunately this is still 1906, and while he does seem to get some retribution when the men who beat him are arrested, the retribution is short lived as his mother and home is attacked and burnt and his college fund is taken.

Feminism is explored as well as it is introduced to Mattie thanks to Miss Wilcox. Mattie finds that the poems Miss Wilcox lets her borrow make her think in ways she has never thought of before. That women can be more than she ever knew possible. She finds that Miss Wilcox is actually Miss Emily Baxter: the writer of the poetry! So she exposes her to the idea and encourages her to get her education, get her diploma and also to pursue her writing into college and become a writer who makes people care about Eagle Bay and real people like herself.

Mattie also struggles with poverty. She knows she is poor but she also sees those around her like Emmie Hubbard who are worse off. She begins working at the hotel and is exposed to people who take vacations. To her "tourists are a race of people who have enough money to go on vacation for a week or two, sometimes a month or even the whole summer." Mattie can't imagine going a day without working. Its is the only way of life she has ever known. This hit home for me thanks to the current economy we live in. I can relate a bit to her thinking in this, as some people just don't know how the other half live.

Mattie does in the end decide rather than live the life that Royal is offering, one that is not a life based on love but on convenience, she decides she would much rather lead a life of her own. I was really surprised to see her leave in the end. I did not expect it. It was a nice surprise. I think what helped Mattie form her decision was being exposed to the strong willed, independent woman in Miss Wilcox.

The added twist to the novel was that there was a murder mystery element. Mattie was faced with whether or not she should uphold the promise of destroying the letters Grace had entrusted her with. She wrestled with promise keeping throughout the novel, and she realizes in the end that Grace has a story that deserves to be told rather than snuffed out after the letters are burnt.

Just a great story. I really enjoyed it. I'd recommend it to teens, it may not be up to speed for adults. But it was really good for being a teen novel. I'm not sure how accurate the historical aspects were, but for me what was there worked. I don't go back and fact check I tend to trust the author has done the leg work involved.
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10/07/2011 page 31
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