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Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

in a sentence: 16 year old Mattie is talented enough to pursue her heart's desire of becoming a writer and going to college in New York City...but will she have the guts to leave all the familiar things she loves behind?

the story takes place in the north woods, 1906. mattie and her 3 sisters live on a plot of land (farm-ish) with their dad, and formerly their brother who ran away. her mom died from breast cancer, leaving the rest of the family reeling in despair, heartache, and a total lack of communication. having the talent that mattie does with writing is rare enough, but having that talent in a time that was so forbidden for girls and when responsibilities to family were put above all else, makes it even tougher for mattie. now throw in a hunky neighbor boy who's putting the moves on her...and she's got a really tough decision to make.

mixed in with mattie's bumpy home life are her friends (my favorite is weaver), her aunt josie (town gossip), and her inspiring teacher (ms. wilcox). the story shifts time from past to present, but the past isn't that far back - so eventually they line up and move forward chronologically.

there's also a sub-story about grace brown, a young woman whose body is found in the river outside of the hotel mattie works at...the day after grace begged mattie to burn a stack of letters for her. SHADY! while it felt a little disjointed to have this side story going on with the rest of mattie's life, it really does serve a purpose in the end.

jennifer donnelly has a very mesmerizing writing style. there is something about the pace she uses, the way she develops characters, and the way she tells a story that really drew me in. i wasn't blown away by the story or any of the twists, and i don't think i was meant to be. she drafts a story that's unique, elegant in it's own way, and creative, and very simple but deliberate in delivery. her research about women author's helped form an integral part of the story, and served as a good reminder about how much there was to overcome. i especially like when she delves into why women authors (and most other progressive women really) either didn't marry and were happy enough (like jane austen) or did marry and were terribly unhappy (like her teacher, ms. wilcox). very interesting...

i liked this book more than i anticipated for sure. i thought the pace would be boring, but it was just right. it's a coming of age story, but it's also about overcoming adversity found within your own family and within your own expectations of yourself. it was not a run-of-the-mill empowerment book either...there were wayyyy too many let downs for it to be a feel good book. i strongly suggest reading it, you'll like it.

fave quote: "It was one more hard and hopeless thing, and I was tired of hard and hopeless things." (mattie, 184)

fix er up: the grace brown sub story could have been woven in a little neater, while still keeping the mystery factor in tact.

title: a northern light
author: jennifer donnelly
genre: Chick Lit, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Printz Honor title

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. would boys like this book?

  2. i think they would like it, but maybe not to the same degree as girls would. the audience is pretty open for any reader, but some of the musings are kinda-girly in nature (being that the main character is a girl and all). it also focuses a lot on women authors and i think that generally is more appealing to girls as they are the ones who can resonate with the setbacks women have faced...


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