A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a fairly easy read with challenging vocabulary that keeps the reader intrigued and constantly thinking. Flashing back to previous events in the main character’s life and forward to the murder of a young woman, the story is addicting. Teenagers and adults alike can relate to the romance, the heartbreak and the obstacles that Mattie Gokey overcomes to finally accomplish her dream.
Words, reading and writing are the backbone of this novel. Donnelly uses a style of vocabulary-based chapters to challenge the reader. Mattie, the main character of the novel, begins each day with a new word from the dictionary, constantly expanding her vocabulary. Each word comes into play as the day’s events unfold, illustrating the definition to the reader. The flashback flash forward style also keeps the reader intrigued and wanting more. Starting with the death a young woman, Donnelly instantly captures the reader’s attention; she follows with the introduction of the protagonist and outlines Mattie’s life, love and dreams.
While the book includes a murder, the plot does not center on the crime and may become boring at times. The flashback chapters focus on Mattie’s home life on the farm, her schooling and exams, and her sudden romance with a character named Royal. Though the romance aspect of the novel may charm readers, they will not be fooled. All Royal seems capable of speaking about is his love for farming. Book titles and allusions also scatter the novel, referring to classic books. Reader may be lost in the sometimes-dull plot line, possibly expecting more referring the murder.
Although the plot may not strike the reader as interesting, Donnelly excels in creating a believable main character that is easily related to today’s teenage generation. Mattie faces numerous difficult decisions throughout the book, struggling with promises she made, maintaining a motherly support for her younger sisters, and her determination to get into college. The last being the most difficult for her, Mattie must choose between marriage with Royal and fulfilling her dream of an education. Teenager readers will easily relate to problems with difficult decision making in their everyday lives.
A small, secluded farming town is the setting of the novel. Readers may have a difficult time connecting to this aspect of the novel depending on where they live. The main characters express a need to escape their rural lives for New York City, which almost every small town teen can understand. As for the farming aspect of the setting, readers will most likely have difficultly relating. Though the setting may not be ideal for the teenage generation, it should not be a determining factor to the quality of the book.
Following dreams and conquering every obstacle to achieve them is the main theme of this novel. Mattie makes the hard decisions and finally achieves her goal. She studies continuously, reading and writing whenever she gets a chance. Donnelly does an excellent job at making the theme relevant to her projected audience; teenagers and adults can really connect to following their dreams no matter their age.
Overall, A Northern Light was a decent novel filled with love, family and dreams. Readers will find it interesting and semi-challenging while easy to read continuously. Different levels of the novel such as the plot, keeping readers entertained, and the theme, encouraging readers to follow their dreams, make this novel a respectable read for readers of all ages.