A Northern Light
(2003) is a multiple award-winning American historical novel
by Jennifer Donnelly
. In the UK
it was published under the alternative title A Gathering Light
. It is based the Big Moose Lake
murder case of 1906, a real event, but unlike Theodore Dreiser
's An American Tragedy
, also based on the murder, Donnelly's book is concerned more with the life of a young girl who gets caught up in it.
Awards and nominations
The novel won the 2003 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
for Young Adult Literature and the 2003 Carnegie Medal
. It was named one of the Young Adult Library Services Association
's top ten books for young adults in 2004, , and also was a Michael L. Printz Award
honor book that year . In 2007
it was selected by judges of the CILIP
Carnegie Medal for children's literature as one of the UK
's ten finest children's books of the past seventy years.
Set in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, the book is focused on the life of a 16-year-old girl named Mattie Gokey. She is the oldest daughter of a widowed farmer, and with that title comes enormous responsibilities on the farm. The problem, though, is that she does not want to be a farm girl all her life. She is a very talented writer, and her teacher's involvement has led to her being accepted on scholarship to Barnard College in New York City. She faces a crossroads decision in her life: does she stay home and honor a promise made to her deceased mother, or does she leave to follow her own dream?
In the midst of this decision, Mattie gets a summer job at a lodge on Big Moose Lake. It is there she meets Grace Brown, who hands her a bundle of letters with instructions to burn them. Later, before Mattie can carry out the task, Grace turns up dead in the lake. Mattie, unable to quell her curiosity, begins reading the letters. As she pieces together Grace's life and realizes why she ended up dead, Mattie is also able to come to terms with her own place in life and what she needs to do.
While the murder case in the book is based on a real event, the author used artistic license in adapting the story. Most notably, Grace hands Mattie both letters that Chester Gillette had written to her and letters that she had written to Chester. In reality, Grace was only in possession of the letters Chester wrote to her; the letters from Grace to Chester were discovered later.
- Mattie Gokey, aged 16, the eldest daughter of a widower farmer, who wins a college scholarship and wants to become a writer.
- Emily Baxter is an unconventional poet who has written poems controversial enough that they have been burned and condemned by the highest authorities. Her husband, who does not approve of Emily's poetry, tries to get her committed and eventually, she flees to Paris. Under the name of Miss Wilcox, she acts as a teacher and friend to the main character, Mattie. She also helps Mattie achieve her dream of going to college.
- Weaver Smith is the only black boy in the entire area and Mattie's best friend. He worked at the Glenmore Hotel along with Mattie in order to earn money for the train ticket to New York City, where he would attend Columbia University.
- Royal Loomis is a handsome but dull boy who Mattie and many other girls are sweet on. Although he doesn't understand Mattie's love for books and words, after spending some time together, he asks to marry her and she says yes. Mattie, however, returns the ring later on.
- Minnie is Mattie's best girl-friend. She's pregnant with twins name antoinique and aj