May 19, 2012

Review: A Northern Light

By: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: September 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Paperback, 380 pages
First Reviewed: December 2010
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
Add it on Goodreads

The widely acclaimed, award-winning story of a young woman who finds her voice.

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 a 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.

Rating: 5/5

I've been wanting to read this for a while now. It's the first literary book I've read since high school and I've heard great things about this. Once I started, it took me a few pages to get into it and to grasp Donnelly's style. But once I did, I immediately knew it was going to be one of my all-time favorites.

Brownie points from me since I love books set in the early 20th century. I loved the setting before I even started the book, so I'm a bit biased. However, I did love how Donnelly was able to describe the setting without telling us. It was weaved into the characters' everyday lives, which was great.

I only have one complaint about the characters and that's that sometimes characters came from nowhere. By that I mean they would pop up as though the readers are already supposed to know them, while other characters were introduced very well, some just weren't, and I wish they had been. That also made it a bit hard to really relate to a few of them. Other than that, I really enjoyed the characters. All had distinct personalities and were believable. Mattie especially was a great lead, I thought.

Jennifer Donnelly is officially one of my favorite writers. Her writing is simply beautiful. Like I said, this was a literary book, so there wasn't any of that commercial-like narrative. It was mature, but still felt like sixteen-year-old Mattie. Also, this book alternates between past and present (a few months apart), and Donnelly was able to keep that going so well that I didn't struggle to keep up with the stories. Her writing was very refreshing. She doesn't hold back on rawness of Mattie's life, or feelings, and she made every bit of this book beyond believe.

While this isn't plot-driven like you see in commercial books, the story is still moving. You're so into the goals and dreams and life of this character that you don't care that no major plot is happening. It's just a beautiful story, which is just as refreshing as the writing. My only complaint was that I felt some of the ending was a bit rushed. I felt it could have been developed a bit more. However, that didn't stop me from feeling a bunch of different emotions (in a good way) from the ending. It was just wonderful, and I'm feeling even more love for it now that I'm done reading it.

Overall, I loved this! It's one of my new favorites, I can't wait to dive into Jennifer Donnelly's newest novel (no relation to this one), Revolution.

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