Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Year Published: 2003
Price: USD 6.98 (via Better World Books)
A Gathering Light (a.k.a A Northern Light) is a historical fiction novel inspired by the real murder case of Grace Brown, happened in 1906, in Big Moose Lake, Adirondacks, USA. Grace who was found drowned in pregnant condition, had left letters from her final days, that pointed Chester Gillette, her secret lover, as her murderer. In this story, Grace Brown's life intertwined with the fictional character, Mattie Gokey, and helped her to make a big decision of her life.
Mattie Gokey was a country girl with a tough life. Although her family had enough land and livestock to fulfill their needs, they were lack of manpower to work on it. Mattie’s brother, Lawton, had left the family after a fight with his father. Mattie’s mother had been dead and had left Mattie to take care her 3 younger sisters. Mattie was actually a talented student in literature. She loved to read books and write. Unfortunately, all people near her, except her teacher, Mrs. Wilcox, and her friend, Weaver, didn’t see her talent as useful. They wanted Mattie to help her family and became a housewife as soon as possible.
One day, Mattie got a scholarship to Barnard College, New York City, but she didn’t have money to pay the rent and living cost. Also she knew that she couldn’t leave her family. Her dilemma became worse after her neighbor, the handsome and rich Royal Loomis, showed his interest to Mattie. Mattie thought she had to forget her dream but deep down inside she knew that living as a farmer was not what she really wanted.
When the holiday season came, Mattie worked as a maid at Glenmore Hotel to earn some extra money for her family. There, she met Grace Brown, who later trusted her letters to Mattie to be burned before she got drowned.
What influence did Grace Brown’s letters have to Mattie’s life? Would Mattie finally decide to leave or stay?
Good books always leave me speechless. And that's definitely what this book has done to me. I've been trying to write a review since I finished reading it but always ended with me deleting all I had written. Hufff...
This is actually the second book of Jennifer Donnelly that I've read after Revolution. While Revolution left my heart wrenched by the tragic story of Alexandrine and the Dauphin of France, the story of A Gathering Light is actually not that dramatic. In fact, the story is rather flat. What makes it special for me is the description of the social life of Adirondacks people during that time and the characterization of the characters. Jennifer Donnelly has successfully made me feel connected to Mattie, the main character. Through her voice and her sight, I could really feel her inner struggle and the reason she felt so.
There were actually so many issues that were brought up in this book: poverty, women emancipation, and also the importance of education. But in my personal opinion, the education problem was the highlight. People from where Mattie lived didn't see high education as the problem solver to their poverty. Also, by that time, women with high education ware pretty unusual, especially the one who was so critical like Mattie. That's why, Mattie seems like a girl living in a wrong place and in a wrong time. When she was told that she received the scholarship at Barnard College, Mattie was torn by the decision to leave of to stay but as the story flows, Mattie were brought to see what she truly wanted and find the courage to reach it.
It seems like a very tough subject, but Jennifer Donnelly had managed to write it beautifully and effortlessly flowing and the way Jennifer Donnelly connected Mattie's struggle with Grace Brown's letter seems fit.
Actually there are some more to say about this book, but, as I've said earlier, good books always make me speechless. So, I think you better read it by yourself and make your own judgment.