Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2003.
Mattie has a dream: she wants to leave the family farm to attend college in New York City. She wants to be a writer. She spouts off words like other girls do recipes. Leaving is not an easy decision. She promised her mother to look after her sisters. Her brother has already deserted the family. Then, there's Royal Loomis. He's handsome and interested in Mattie. How can she resist?
A tragedy unconnected to Mattie makes her reevaluate her life. A girl, just a bit older than Mattie, drowns in the Lake. She was staying at the hotel Mattie is working at during the summer. Grace, the drowned girl, entrusted some love letters to Mattie. She made Mattie promise to burn them. After Grace's mysterious death, Mattie can't help, but read the letters. What she finds there makes her break her promises to her mother and Grace.
What I thought: This was an absorbing book. I couldn't put it down. I related to Mattie in terms of ambition. I have always wanted to be a writer. Mattie and I are also both pioneers. She left her family to pursue her dreams. I was the first person in my family to attend college. The story has two narratives: Mattie's present (summer at the hotel) and the near past (four months prior). The narratives eventually converge. I found this technique (flashbacks) to be interesting, but not confusing. I was so proud of Mattie when she broke her engagement to Royal and left. She was destined for better things than being a farmer's wife with a baby every year. I love that this book is based on a real murder. This is historical fiction at its best. Dreiser's An American Tragedy is now on my reading list. I also look forward to reading more books by Donnelly. I find her to be an exceptional writer.
Thanks to Abby (the) Librarian for recommending the book on her blog.