A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

#15 of 200

Original Language: English
Publisher: Harcourt’s Childrens Books
Country: United States
Publication Date: April 1, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-15-216705-9
Page Count: 400
Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace’s drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder. Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly’s astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original. Includes a reader’s guide and an interview with the author.

Jennifer Donnelly’s most celebrated young adult novel, winner of the 2003 Carnegie Medal, A Gathering Light (also published as A Northern Light), is the inspiring tale of Mattie Gokey, a young woman desperate to further her education. The novel details important moments in Mattie’s life, the death of her Mother, her beau Royal Loomis and the general going’s on in her home town in the Adirondack Mountains. In addition, there are chapters detailing her work at the Glenmore Hotel, where a young woman has drowned and her partner is missing.

Mattie is a sweet, if somewhat naive, protagonist. She is caught between the harsh reality of farm life in 1906, and a a desire to fit into the worlds of Austen,Dickens and Dumas. She is lively, clever and resourceful. Every morning Mattie opens her dictionary and chooses a word of the day. Each of these words is applied, in some way, to the events of her day. Mattie’s vernacular is a clever combination of local colloquialisms and formal language. It makes her desire to learn more appealing to the reader.

The events of A Gathering Light, are intriguing. At the Glenmore Hotel, where Mattie works over the summer, a young couple go boating on the lake. When the woman is found drowned, Mattie is at a loss. Earlier that day she was presented with a handful of letters by Grace, the young woman, and is asked to burn them. Instead Mattie reads them and finds her world is turned upside down.

The mystery, of Grace’s letters and death, are interesting but hard to follow. The novel is not set chronologically, and the reader is forever jumping from childhood memory, to memory of Grace’s death, to Mattie and Royal’s courtship and back to the letters again. It gets rather confusing; as soon as you get into a particular story, you are left hanging until you reach the next related chapter, 15 or 20 odd pages on.

A Gathering Light is enjoyable. It is a beautiful portrayal of life in northern New York city where a successful farm, or business, is the difference between having dinner and going hungry. There are some points of interest left unexplained, from Uncle Fifty to Emmie Hubbert yet the conclusion of A Gathering Light is a success. Jennifer Donnelly uses all the experiences of Mattie’s childhood, romance and the events of Grace’s death to lead to Mattie’s actions in the last chapter. Everything we read, the reason behind character distress, Mattie’s, sometimes bombastic, desire for words, and Grace’s letters leads up to the pivotal last chapter, making everything worth it in the end.

It is not, truly, a happy ending, but it is a satisfying one. A Gathering Light is a wonderful novel for young adults at an age where they must find themselves a place in the world. It is an excellent adventure of self discovery and understanding.
Raiding Bookshelves Rating
Judging by the Cover: There are a few covers for A Gathering Light, and none of them seem to catch the essence of the novel. A 1906 murder mystery, the hardships of a young woman living on a farm, and the difficulty of a woman furthering her education. This cover emphasises the importance of Grace’s death on Mattie, when really, it is only the moment when everything else bubbles over. I would prefer something like her Revolution cover. Where several aspects are faded over each other, to focus on where they interlink. Perhaps, AGL needed Grace’s letters to be faded over the top. Words really were Mattie’s world.

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