I didn’t realize until the end of this book that A Northern Light is based on a true story of a 1906 murder (not a spoiler; it’s written on the back of the book. I just didn’t read that, apparently). It’s categorized as YA fiction, but I think adults would really enjoy it as well, even those who don’t generally like YA books.
Set in the early 1900s in the Adirondacks, the story follows the struggles of sixteen-year-old Mattie, her family, and her friends. As the oldest daughter, Mattie cares for her father and her three younger sisters after her mother’s death and her brother’s disappearance. She loves reading books and dreams of writing her own, but her busy life taking care of her family and their farm threatens to keep her from chasing her dreams. Eventually Mattie ends up with a job at the Glenmore hotel along with several of her friends, where she meets Grace Brown, a hotel guest who is found dead in mysterious circumstances.
My favorite thing about this book was the format. The book begins with a description of Grace’s death and Mattie’s life at the Glenmore, and the story of how Mattie ended up there is told through flashbacks interspersed with short chapters set at the Glenmore. For me, this kept the book from becoming too depressing. “I know she’s not stuck here forever,” I would think at a particularly heart-wrenching setback, “because she at least made it to the Glenmore!”
The characters were also well written. From Mattie’s angry friend Weaver, to her beau Royal, to her silent and serious Pa, to the ever-hungry neighbor boy named Tommy, the characters were interesting and distinguishable. Although I don’t know a huge amount about rural life in the early 1900s, the struggles that the characters went through seemed realistic enough without becoming melodramatic.
Basically, this is a story about a young girl and her big dreams, with a bit of mystery thrown in the mix. It made me grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my life and all the people who have supported my dreams. Mattie struggles with balancing the expectations of those she cares about with her own desires and goals. But Mattie’s struggle makes her dreams that much more important to her, and I admired that.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good