Hello fellow young adult literature lovers! My name is Anna Doane and I am currently a graduate student at Nazareth College, home of the Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival! Here at Nazareth I am studying to become a literacy specialist, and in one of my courses I was provided with the opportunity to read a novel by one of the authors that will be at the book fest this year: Jennifer Donnelly!
A murder mystery based on a true story that takes place in Upstate New York. Are you hooked, yet? I know I was. I was instantly drawn to Jennifer Donnelly’s novel, A Northern Light because of its apparent closeness to myself. The story is set in a small town near Fourth Lake in The Adirondacks. I have actually spent several summers vacationing right on Fourth Lake so I was immediately intrigued by the mystery surrounding a place I thought I knew quite well. As it turns out, although my initial connection to the story remained in tact, I grew connected to this story for so many more reasons than its location, reasons that I honestly did not expect. Donnelly artfully creates a storyline that is completely multifaceted. On the surface this story appears to be a murder mystery, but it turns into so much more. So much more in fact, that I created a wordle to gather all of the ideas just I was able to relate to as I read the story.
Donnelly’s story is told through the eyes of Mattie Gokey, a young girl that finds herself tangled into the secret life of murder victim, Grace Brown. As the story develops you find yourself just as curious about Mattie’s story as the mystery behind Grace. Mattie is a young adult that anyone can relate to. She struggles with family conflicts, relationships with friends and love interests. We see the difficult choices Mattie has to make between continuing her education and beginning a career as a writer and becoming a wife, because in 1906 women could rarely do both.
If you are looking at the wordle I created and wondering what in the world the word “sesquipedalian” has to do with Donnelly’s novel, fear not. Here is your answer. Mattie’s love of language invites you to explore your own vocabulary, as many of Donnelly’s chapters in the story are titled using one of Mattie’s dictionary “Words of the Day.” This added stylistic element is really attention grabbing. I found myself at the start of every chapter wondering how each word would be used. It definitely adds something to the reading experience!
In the story Mattie poses a poignant question that becomes a central theme to the novel, and one I feel anyone can relate to:
“Why did little towns in Herkimer County never get a mention in anybody’s book? Why was it always other places and other lives that mattered?” (Donnelly, pg. 61)
Jennifer Donnelly answers Mattie’s question with her novel. She shows us just how much the seemingly little towns that we are all familiar with, and the lives of those living in them can and do matter. They matter a great deal.
Are you hooked yet? Go pick up a copy of Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light at your local library!