I'm completely bleary-eyed today because I couldn't put this book down until I finished reading the entire story. The list of awards and praise for this YA novel is almost as long as the actual book, and I can only say that every nomination and word of praise for A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly was well-deserved.
Mattie Gokey is a sixteen-year-old girl in 1906, struggling to balance the needs of her family, where she serves as a surrogate mother after the real mother's death, and her own needs. She wants to go to college, and she's fortunate to have a best friend, a black boy named Weaver, and a new teacher that encourage her desire to learn. She also has a handsome neighbor boy who wants to marry her, which would leave her right beside her father and younger siblings. What does Mattie do? What can Mattie do?
Donnelly provides wonderful descriptions of Mattie's home life, which remind me of the way my own grandparents lived, and the job that Mattie has in the local hotel kitchen and dining room over the summer when Decisions Must Be Made. And all of the supporting characters are so interesting.
As a backdrop to Mattie's life, the true-life death of Grace North is described. Donnelly has Mattie receive a bundle of letters from Grace, a guest at the hotel, just before Grace leaves with her boyfriend on the boat ride that leads to her death. Real excerpts from her letters and those from her lover are contained with the book.
Apparently, I need to read An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, which is based on the death of Grace North, because I found that story almost as fascinating as Mattie's story.
I immediately loaned this book to my mom to read.
My overall personal rating of A Northern Light is an A. And I want more; I want to know what happens in Mattie and Weaver's lives next.