Book Review: A Northern Light

Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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 entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

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



A Northern Light takes places in 1906 in the Adirondacks (called the North Woods by its residents) of upstate New York. It's an area I know virtually nothing about, but Donnelly has brought the spirit of its people to vibrant life in this story. 


The narrator, Mattie, is a bookish heroine in a world of poverty-stricken farmers and hospitality workers. She has a charming habit of choosing a word of the day from the dictionary (her prized possession), because she has a love of words, language, and storytelling. She's also hard-working and loving, and has a naive faith in the goodness of people. Ultimately, even though there's a murder as the backdrop to it, this story is about Mattie's transition from naive girl to driven woman. 


As you'd expect given the setting, narrator's age and sex, and the fact that there's a murder, this book is filled with micro tension. I really didn't want to stop listening to it! (the narrator of the audiobook does a good job, especially with the subtle accents and the French peppered in it)


Don't read this if you're wanting a murder mystery, because there isn't much of a mystery/whodunit plot it. It's more of an event that serves a personal purpose to the narrator than her becoming a detective. 
That being said, you should absolutely read it if you like historical fiction, especially set in the early 1900's, if you like stories revolving around 'simple country folk' and small towns (both the good and the bad parts of them), coming-of-age novels, plucky female protagonists, and wordplay/etymology/language.

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