A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mattie Gokey is sixteen and dreams of going away to college to pursue her love of writing. However, with her mother recently deceased, a runaway brother, a father and several siblings to take care of as well as, a house and a farm, those dreams are quickly fading. Mattie would like to work at the Glenmore to earn enough money for a train ticket to New York where she has earned a college scholarship. However, her father wants Mattie to stay home and look after her siblings and the house. When the family finds themselves in need of money for a new mule, Mattie is allowed to work at the Glenmore where she meets a hotel guest by the name of Grace Brown who gives Mattie a secret bundle of letters to burn. When Grace's drowned body is discovered by the lake, Mattie soon discovers that the letters could reveal secrets that may explain the horrible tragedy.
I really enjoyed this book. Donnelly's writing is powerful and brilliantly crafted. The characters are very well developed and representative of the time period, 1906. Her development of setting and local norms kept me anxious, at the edge of my seat and worried about what they, especially Mattie, would do next. The themes of women's limited roles in the early 20th Century and the expectations that they would marry, raise a consistently growing family (pre-birth control), cook, take care of the home and work on the farm created much tension for me as a woman living in the 21st Century. It made me think about what women 100 years from now would think about the many women today in modern society who work demanding, 40 to 60 hours a week, jobs, raise kids, and still take care of the home. What about women in impoverished societies where not much has changed since 1906? I realized that the discomfort that I felt while reading about the women in the novel was partly due to that fact although women have come a long way over the years, much remains to be improved.