A Gathering Light Paperback – Aug 7 2006
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It's 1906 and 16-year-old Mattie Gokey is at a crossroads in her life. She's escaped the overwhelming responsibilities of helping to run her father's brokedown farm in exchange for a paid summer job as a serving girl at a fancy hotel in the Adirondacks. She's saving as much of her salary as she can, but she's having trouble deciding how she's going to use the money at the end of the summer. Mattie's gift is for writing and she's been accepted to Barnard College in New York City, but she's held back by her sense of responsibility to her family--and by her budding romance with handsome-but-dull Royal Loomis. Royal awakens feelings in Mattie that she doesn't want to ignore, but she can't deny her passion for words and her desire to write.
At the hotel, Mattie gets caught up in the disappearance of a young couple who had gone out together in a rowboat. Mattie spoke with the young woman, Grace Brown, just before the fateful boating trip, when Grace gave her a packet of love letters and asked her to burn them. When Grace is found drowned, Mattie reads the letters and finds that she holds the key to unraveling the girl's death and her beau's mysterious disappearance. Grace Brown's story is a true one (it's the same story told in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy and in the film adaptation, A Place in the Sun), and author Jennifer Donnelly masterfully interweaves the real-life story with Mattie's, making her seem even more real.
Mattie's frank voice reveals much about poverty, racism, and feminism at the turn of the twentieth century. She witnesses illness and death at a range far closer than most teens do today, and she's there when her best friend Minnie gives birth to twins. Mattie describes Minnie's harrowing labor with gut-wrenching clarity, and a visit with Minnie and the twins a few weeks later dispels any romance from the reality of young motherhood (and marriage). Overall, readers will get a taste of how bitter--and how sweet--ordinary life in the early 1900s could be. Despite the wide variety of troubles Mattie describes, the book never feels melodramatic, just heartbreakingly real. (14 and older) --Jennifer Lindsay --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-Mattie Gokey, 16, a talented writer, promised her dying mother that she would always take care of her father and younger siblings. She is stuck on a farm, living in near poverty, with no way of escaping, even though she has been accepted at Barnard College. She promises to marry handsome Royal Loomis even though he doesn't appear to love her. Now, Mattie has promised Grace Brown, a guest at the Adirondack summer resort where she works, to burn two bundles of letters. Then, before she can comply, Grace's body is found in the lake, and the young man who was with her disappears, also presumably drowned. This is a breathtaking tale, complex and often earthy, wrapped around a true story. In 1906, Grace Brown was killed by Chester Gillette because she was poor and pregnant, and he hoped to make his fortune by marrying a rich, society girl. Grace's story weaves its way through Mattie's, staying in the background but providing impetus. The protagonist tells her tale through flashback and time shifts from past to present. Readers feel her fears for her friend Weaver-the first freeborn child in his family-when he is beaten for being black and his college savings are stolen, and enjoy their love of words as they engage in language duels. Finally, they'll experience her awakening when she realizes that she cannot live her life for others. Donnelly's characters ring true to life, and the meticulously described setting forms a vivid backdrop to this finely crafted story. An outstanding choice for historical-fiction fans, particularly those who have read Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy.
Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Set in the early 1900's, Mattie is a young lady very torn between her dreams of becoming a writer and family related responsibilities. To add to her dilemmas, she falls in love, feeling more and more confused.
Grace is another young lady whose body is found lifeless in the lake by the Glenmore Hotel, where Mattie works.
Both girls' tales entwine and merge in a clever and entertaining combination.
The prose is pictorial and detailed, conveying the surroundings, the characters and their feelings so nicely.
There's a little gem embedded in the beginning of each chapter, which is not numbered but starts off with the introduction of a new word, as part of a game that Mattie and her friend Weaver play every day to strengthen their vocabulary. Each word is irrelevant to the core of the story but there's always the appropriate space for it, a clever touch. I found myself playing along and testing my own vocabulary!
There are many themes in this book: poverty, racism, love, compassion, hope are but a few. The narrative is creative and clever, with very sad and very funny situations too. The sense of humour conveyed by Mattie is remarkable.
When I started it, I had avoided reading the summary on the back cover (a bit revealing I later realised), but I was glad I did, so that the last part of the book took me completely by surprise.
Definitely a timeless novel, I would suggest it for young readers too (15+).
P.S. A little note: "A Gathering Light" and "A Northern Light" are exactly the same book, the second one being the American original title. I was about to buy it when I realised they were the same. Just so you know.
I enjoyed this book, it would definitely appeal to fans of "The Word of the Day", and the book's heroine is a word collector named Mattie Gokey.
Mattie Gokey's mother has died from cancer and Mattie is burdened with the chore of raising her sisters while her father struggles to put food on the table. Royal Loomis a good looking neighbour boy has been paying attention to Mattie and helping her out whenever he can and taking her for thrilling rides on his buckboard.
Mattie is an intelligent girl with a gift for words and she is able to express herself with the pen. Her teacher encourages her to write and to finish her high school education and to apply for a college education in New York City. Mattie is accepted into a college, but there is her family to consider, the money to consider and there is Royal Loomis to consider.
In the background of the life of Mattie, there is a murder mystery that adds an extra dimension to the book and makes it an intriguing read.
A delight to read, I loved the word duels between Mattie and her best friend Weaver who is a young intelligent African-American who will not put up with racism and is willing to fight for his rights, which he does numerous times throughout the book.
The book has a funny way of jumping through time that could be confusing to younger readers, but then again this book is not meant for younger readers, so it should not pose a problem.
Mathilda Gokey, called Mattie or Matt, does not live a very luxurious or happy life. Mattie's mother has died, leaving her father completely grief-stricken. Mattie's older brother Lawton has left the farm for good, and Mattie's father is left to run a farm and care for four girls. The jobs which were once Lawton's, are now Mattie's; the family often struggles terribly to deal with their lack of money. Mattie tries to make things the best for her younger sisters---Abby, Lou, and Beth. But it still seems like no use.
Mattie dearly wishes hat she could attend college, for she is a very talented writer that loves words---she even picks a word of the day out of the dictionary--and even though she has received a scholarship to Barnard College, her father refuses to allow Mattie to go. It is because he's afraid he will lose just one more family member, for the third time. But even with the scholarship, Mattie does not have enough money for the train fare and tickets. So she decides to work at the Glenmore Hotel for the summer, to earn enough money to go to Barnard College in September.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
After reading Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, I knew I had to read A Northern Light. As was expected, the book did not disappoint. I absolutely loved it. Read morePublished on Jan. 26 2012 by Tammy Bramley
BEAUTIFUL WRITING --- METICULOUS RESEARCH --- A GREAT STORY-
LINE -- SUSPENSE -- LOVE -- CHOICES TO BE MADE --- just a wonderful book.
I found this book at the school library's new book shelf, i decided to read it and i was so glad that i did. Read morePublished on June 30 2004 by LuvErOfaNiMaLS
I read this book after reading Jennifer Donnelly's novel "The Tea Rose"(which I loved). I enjoyed the characters and the their voices, but I especially loved the focus on words... Read morePublished on May 22 2004 by Gr8Smokies
I think this book is wonderful. I read it three times because it is so delightfully delightful. However, kids should'nt read it. It has some inapropriate stuff in it. Read morePublished on April 9 2004 by Glenmore Girl
This story is about Mattie, who gets accepted into a college, and she has to decide if she wants to stay with her family and friends or to pursue her dreams of becoming a... Read morePublished on March 29 2004 by Amanda H.
I thought that a Northern Light was an awesome book. It was filled with engrossing characters and I just couldn't put it down. Read morePublished on March 18 2004 by wazzupdawg22
I have read many, many, many books. I can also think of many that I'd write a review about, but this is the first I've actually taken the time to write. Read morePublished on Feb. 22 2004 by Renee C. Miller
What more can I say? It's an honest coming of age story for a young lady, Mattie, growing up in the early 1900's. Read morePublished on Feb. 10 2004 by drmstrm16