Friday, July 29, 2016

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Genre:  YA Historical Fiction

Description (taken from Jennifer Donnelly's website):
It is 1906 and Mattie Gokey is trying to learn how to stand up like a man -- even though she’s a sixteen-year-old girl. At her summer job at a resort on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack mountains, she will earn enough money to make something of her life.

That money could be a dowry to wed the handsome but dull Royal Loomis. It could save her father’s brokeback farm. Or it might buy her a train ticket to New York City and college and a life that she can barely allow herself to imagine.

But Mattie’s worries and plans are cast into a cold light when the drowned body of Grace Brown turns up – a young woman who gave Mattie a packet of love letters, letters that convince Mattie that the drowning was no accident.

Inspired by the sensational Chester Gillette murder case of 1906, which was also the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and the film A Place in the Sun, this story evokes novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, and other classics that hark back to times of lost innocence.

Mattie lives in a small town in New York where eery girl's dream is to get married and help their husband on the farm while having a family of their own.  But Mattie has a way with words and is one of the first to get a high school diploma in her town.  Her teacher helps her dream of college and a degree.  Her best friend wants her to go to New York City with him for school.  But is this dream within reach?  With her father's farm needing more help and a boy catching her eye, will she be able to leave it all?

Mattie is currently working at a resort where a lot of rich folk stop for a vacation.  One of the guests gives her a pile of letters to destroy before disappearing one day.  When they do find her, Mattie begins to read the letters and relate them to her own life.  At the crossroads of youth and adulthood, Mattie must decide who she wants to be.  And just maybe, Grace Brown's words will leave an impression and help Mattie choose the life she wants.

This was such a good coming-of-age novel set in the early 1900s.  And hearing Mattie's story reminded me so much of my own life, and the choices I made as a young adult.  Since I might be a little biased for having also moved away for college and career, I was definitely rooting for one path over the other.  And while the small subtleties and plot lines were easy to see, it was still endearing to see the main character eventually catch on and see things in a different light.

This was definitely a refreshingly different read for me.  While it has a slower pace than other novels, it still caught my attention pretty early.  I had to know what Mattie decided to do with her future.

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