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A Northern Light

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  38,640 ratings  ·  3,571 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.

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Paperback, 396 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by HMH Books for Young Readers (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.…moreI wouldn't let a 5th grader read this. There is some swearing & in addition to the scene Adrienne mentioned, there is also indecent exposure.(less)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  38,640 ratings  ·  3,571 reviews

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Sep 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 b ...more
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
May 19, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sweet 16! (SPOILER)

That book was a trip down memory lane. I had forgotten how it feels to be 16-17 and dream about the future. I remember myself growing up on a beautiful island with my family. I often seeked solitude and I always had a feeling I was supposed to live some place different. When I left the island I took all these memories and stories from home with me! Just like Mattie...

Definitely a page-turner!

"I believe these things. With all my heart. For I am good at telling myself lies."
Bonnie Shores
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original."

I'm "borrowing" the blurb for this story for one reason...


"Why?" you ask. Because this book was NOTHING like I thought it would be based on the summary. Now, that doesn't mean that I didn't love it, because I absolutely did. It just means that I thought t
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Oct 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical YA fiction
Recommended to Tatiana by: Printz
Shelves: 2010, historical, ya, 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
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A.k.a. A gathering light.
On July 12, 1906, the body of a young woman named Grace Brown was pulled from the waters of Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. This is the fact on which the writer based her story of Mattie. A young girl from an agricultural background who met Grace Brown in the hotel where she worked. It's a well written, sweet story, despite the hardships.
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
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
May 09, 2012 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 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 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
Halfway through A Gathering Light, I logged on to GoodReads wondering why I’d seemingly never heard of this absolutely riveting book, only to discover that I had. This is the UK title for A Northern Light - a book I’ve had on my TBR for years.

A Gathering Light is the most feminist and empowering YA book I’ve read. I related to Mattie on a visceral level, to that need to be free of what everyone tells you is right, and the urge to go after what you know is right for you.

I wish I had read this in
May 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
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
Nov 18, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
”I knew then why they didn’t marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn’t want to be lonely my whole life. I didn’t want to give up my words. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn’t have to. Charles Dickens didn’t. And John Milton didn’t, either, though he might have made life easier for untold generations of schoolkids if he had.”

A Northern Light speaks to me on transcendental levels. I truly am at a loss for
Apr 22, 2016 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Nov 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2008 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 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd only read a few pages of this before I realised I'd already read it! I guess it must have been been when it was first published around 15 years ago. I could remember bits but not all of it and I've not got many paperbacks with me so I kept going. I remembered enjoying it the first time round and was slightly surprised to find I still liked it a lot on a second reading. Mattie is for me a very good character and her story comes over well. A girl growing up in a tough life with ambitions - it ...more
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that come from your words.”

I absolutely loved this tale from beginning to end. A Northern Light is a beautiful coming of age story written by a gifted writer, Jennifer Donnelly. This is the story of Mattie Gokey, girl who's living in a rural area in 1906. She is struggling with helping her father run a farm and raise her younger siblings as all the responsibility falls on her. But Mattie wants more than this dull life
Alissa Patrick
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Beth The Vampire
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 now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again be quite the same person you were.

It's 1906, and Mattie Gokey is an intelligent and mature young woman that is decades before her time.
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What's the Name o...: SOLVED. YA set in late 1800s/early 1900s - girl who loves to read - is friends with a black boy. [s] 3 37 Apr 23, 2019 05:24PM  
Book Review 1 5 Nov 30, 2017 08:43PM  
A northern light 2 15 Jan 19, 2017 09:43PM  

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Jennifer Donnelly is the author of twelve novels -Stepsister, 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 is a co-author of Fatal Throne, which explores the lives of King Henry VIII's six wives, for which she wrote the part of Anna ...more

Articles featuring this book

The author of 'Salt to the Sea' discusses the historical events that inspired her new YA novel.
17 likes · 4 comments
“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.” 676 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.” 357 likes
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