Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Published: 2004

A Northern Light is a beautifully written, stirring historical novel about the eldest girl in a family surviving the loss of their mother in 1906 Maine. The daily hardships are described in vivid, poetic detail. I don't envy anyone living in that era, especially young women. Mattie fights to stay in school, knowing education is her key to moving on from the woods of Maine, but her younger siblings need her and her father's demands for running the farm start to squelch her dreams of becoming a writer.

The story is told in a rather strange way; there are two concurrent stories, both with Mattie as the lead character. One takes place during the summer as she works at an inn for tourists, earning wages serving tables and cleaning linens. The body of a drowned woman is found in the lake by the inn, and Mattie recalls her brief conversation with the woman prior to her death, and struggles with what to do about the stack of letters the woman instructs Mattie to burn for her. This piece intertwines with life from the preceeding spring leading up to the summer at the inn and the investigation of the body. I listened to the story as an audiobook, so that may have led to a little of the confusion on my part as it took a minute to grasp the timeframe of each section.

Donnelly's writing reminded me at times of Barbara Kingsolver; the prose is beautiful, intelligent and well- crafted. Kingsolver has a way of describing setting that becomes integral to a story, and that's what I found in A Northern Light. Some aspects of the story were truly heartbreaking, and the whole time I kept hoping Mattie would find her way to her dreams.

If you like historical fiction and stories about families overcoming hardships, this is a great book. It won a Printz award and is noted on a lot of book lists. The storyline about the drowned woman is based on a true story, which is detailed in a note by the author at the end of the book. Well worth the read. Actor Hope Davis narrates the audiobook and she is phenomenal. I would listen to any audiobook she reads, regardless of genre!


  1. sounds interesting. IM not into those kinds of books normally, but this one sounds kinda cool.

  2. Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

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  3. I read the book it is absolutely amazing! It's my favorite


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