A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: Book Review

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Cover of A Northern Light

5 Stars

Mattie Gokey is an intelligent high school senior living in rural New York in 1906. As this book unfolds, we are following two different, intertwined arcs of Mattie’s life: the earlier months when she is desperate to get to college and the later months when she’s working at a summer lake resort where a young couple has just gone missing.

I have neglected writing this review for about two weeks now. I loved this book, and I know that I’m never going to do it justice.

First of all, there’s Mattie herself. Do all readers adore books where the main character is reader also, or is it just me? Mattie is a beautiful writer; a voracious, hungry reader; and a word collector. I just loved her. The book is written in first person, and her voice is authentic and beautiful. The edge of my book is a flurry of post-it flags marking quotes that I loved. You know I’m going to quote them at you at the end of this review, right?

She’s at that age when the world is open before her, but she has ties tugging her back. You know that feeling that your soul is bigger than your body and you just have to stretch your wings? Mattie describes it perfectly.

A lot of the book centers around the choice that Mattie must make between what she wants and what’s expected of her. She’s torn and I was so worried about her, all the way through. I desperately wanted her to choose what would make her happy. I just love characters that do that to me.

As Mattie is making her decision, she’s reading letters left behind by the lady who is missing. These are real letters from a real crime committed in NY. The contrast between the letters and Mattie’s story is just perfect. I loved having this backdrop for Mattie’s fictional story to unfold against. They played off each other beautifully.

My one tiny complaint is that I loved the book so much, I had high hopes for a last line that would knock me back in my chair. The last lines were very strong, but they were a tiny bit cliched. My socks weren’t knocked off. But, like I said, it was definitely a strong ending.

I’m really thinking that I need to start working my way through the Michael L. Printz award winners and honor books. The Book Thief was an honor book and it’s my current favorite. This one got a spot high on my list of favorites. Those guys must be on to something.

I guess you’ve got the point by now, but I highly, highly recommend this book. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s labeled as a young adult book. These authors have a lot to say that people of all ages can relate to. Put aside any pre-conceived notions you might have of young adult novels and give this a try. I really don’t think you’ll regret it.

My favorite quotes:
“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get–a cold, sick feeling deep down inside–when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don’t want it to, but you can’t stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was, and a will be. And that you will never again be quite the same person you were.”

“A new word. Bright with possibilities. A flawless pearl to turn over and over in my hand, then put away for safekeeping.”

“What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I’d just stumbled into Ali Baba’s cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed.”

“There were lives in those books, and deaths. Families and friends and lovers and enemies. Joy and despair, jealousy, envy, madness, and rage. All there… I could almost hear the characters inside, murmuring and jostling, impatient for me to open the cover and let them out.”

“I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you.”

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  1. I remember reading this a few years ago, and I loved it! Great review.

    Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict

  2. Great review! This is the first I've heard of it, but it sounds terrific. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. This is on my 2010 reading list. Everyone has seemed to enjoy it! Thanks 4 the great review.

  4. Wow! What a great review! This sounds like a great book. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about it. I may just have to pick it up!

  5. wow.this one is sure one of your best read..i also enjoy reading your review and i think i might look out for this book. =p

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