Saturday, January 24, 2015

Book Review: A Northern Light

The inside cover of this novel, A Northern Light, highlights nine different awards this book received, including an ALA "Top Ten" Best Book for Young Adults. I'm so glad this was the selection for our January meeting of my young adult book club. I really enjoyed this book. Kudos to this author for creating such an enduring character who intersects with a historical moment, yet manages to come alive all on her own.

Back cover teaser: "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 asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

"Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original."

I came to love Mattie so much. I loved her love of books and words. I loved her adventurous spirit. She had big shoes to fill when her mother died of cancer and left her basically in charge of all her younger siblings. She just held so much promise and I ached for her to realize her dreams. The murder is really secondary to Mattie's story. It is woven through the tale, but really stands as a foil to prompt Mattie to take hold of her dreams instead of letting them slip away.

This book was full of the raw details of life (death, illness, racial prejudice, loneliness, desire, infidelity, gossip, etc), yet came off as so redemptive and hopeful, despite these bad things. It resonated with truth. I will be thinking about this one for some time to come and may even wish to take a stab at Dreiser's An American Tragedy (I read Sister Carrie in college).


Looked up Dreiser's An American Tragedy and found that it is 896 pages long. Schwew! That's a hefty reading investment. Granted, it IS a classic, but perhaps if you are looking for this tale in short-form, you'd be better off reading Donnelly's version. Then again, Dreiser seems to paint the characters involved with a broader brush stroke and turns out an epic adventure (although one reviewer on Amazon wrote "Evil... I hate this book. I wrote my 10th grade term paper on this book in 1992. It still gives me nightmares. It's boring, dull, and drawn out." - Ha!)

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