A Northern Light

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a book based on a true happened story: The Big Moose Lake (near New York) murder case of 1906. It was a cruel murder of the young Grace Brown. Some say her ghost still haunts the Big Moose Lake.


The back cover of the book indicates it’s a story about a murdered young woman named Grace Brown and the mysteries that came along with murder. Though, when you read the book, you read about Mattie Gokey. It’s all about her family, her romances, her dreams about going to college in New York and her job at the Glenmore. The fact that Grace Brown is one of the hotel guests and that she hands over a bundle of letters to Mattie whereafter she suddenly gets killed, is more of an accessory.

This novel is the proof that a back cover can be delusive, which is bothersome because this way the book attracts the wrong readers. This not a mystery thriller at all. It’s a romance. And it’s a good one.

So the story is about Mattie Gokey, a sixteen-year-old girl with a mighty talent for writing and a radical passion for reading. She gets the wonderful opportunity to go to college in New York, but to take that chance she has to break a promise she made to her dead mother not to leave the farm and take care of the family. The problem of money is another issue enduring throughout the book.
Then there is Royal Loomis, the charming and populair boy who is suddenly interested in the farmer girl Mattie. She doesn’t believe in his love until he buys her a ring. But there’s also Matties feelings for Weaver.

The book flashes back-and forward continuously, which is very confusing. Another part of the story is about Mattie working at the Glenmore, where you meet all guests of the hotel including Grace Brown.

When an interviewer asked Jennifer Donnelly where she got her ideas, she answered: “The truth is, I don’t get them at all – they get me.”.

She started to get interested in the Big Moose Lake murder case when her mother bought her a fictionalized account called “An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser” about a murder, based on Grace Brown’s.
You’ll find the whole interview and many others on Jennifer Donnely’s website.

Funny is that every chapter starts with a difficult word that Mattie chooses every day out of her dictionary. Somewhere in that chapter, the word will appear and at that part Mattie explains the word. It makes the book instructive in a way, but after a few chapters it’s getting monotonous.

The book is of high standard, taking in account it’s the writer’s first young adult novel. Yet, the time-differences from chapter to chapter are annoying and they’re making the story complex to understand. Furthermore there’s a lot of nonsensical text, which make the reader want to skip parts. The reason for that is the back cover of the book. The reader is waiting the whole book long for a denouement, for the mystery and the action that will never come. The book will be slammed shut with dissatisfaction and disappointment.


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