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A Northern Light

By Jennifer Donnelly
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical, mystery
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Women’s rights, education, children in poverty

Reader’s Annotation:  With the real-life mystery of Grace Brown’s death as a backdrop, this novel tells the fictional story of Mattie Gokey in Uttica, NY in 1906.

Summary:  In upstate New York in 1906, Mattie Gokey is working hard to hold her family together after her mother’s death and her brother’s desertion.  In a constant struggle against poverty, illness and hopelessness, Mattie cares for her three younger sisters, helps her father run their small farm, and studies to earn her high school diploma.  Her greatest dream is to attend Barnard College where she has gained acceptance and a full scholarship, but only Mattie’s good friend Weaver and her teacher Miss Wilcox are excited for her.  Mattie’s father says no, her sisters do not want her to leave, and her intended, Royal, simply does not understand Mattie’s desire for further education.  Then a traveler, a young woman by the name of Grace Brown, dies mysteriously.  As Mattie tries to piece together an understanding of Grace’s life and death, she realizes the importance of her own story.

Notes:  Though Mattie narrates the novel, many women’s stories are presented, offering an unflinching account of the hardships faced by women at this point in history.  These struggles resonate with women today as well, making this novel a thought-provoking read.
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