Book Review :: A Northern Light

Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light is a book I would have loved when I was 12. I obviously wasn’t paying close enough attention to all of the rave reviews it has received to know ahead of time that it is a YA novel, and had I know that, I wouldn’t have been eager to request it.

It is the story of Mattie, a bright 16-year-old has recently been thrust into the role of caregiver to her younger siblings due to the death of her mother. Her struggle is between family duty and a desire for a better future (education). My interest in this novel was piqued by the inclusion of the murder on which Theodore Dreiser based his novel, An American Tragedy. Ultimately, I was disappointed by how simply it was tied in.

And I guess that was my disappointment with the book as a whole. It was simple. One story line. A handful of flat characters. A predictable narrative. The only thing that was different, the only thing ‘catchy’ were the word games that Mattie plays. One is her ‘word of the day’ used at the beginning of chapters and then eventually tied into the story. (But even this became trite after awhile.) The other is ‘word dueling’ that she plays with her good friend, the only other scholar her age. One tosses a word and they ‘duel’ synonyms until one pauses too long, giving the other time for the ‘kill.’

In short, not bad for what I might have been looking for in middle school, but not what I’m looking for now.

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One Reply to “Book Review :: A Northern Light”

  1. Aw, I’m sorry to hear you didn’t much like it. I actually found it quite complex and satisfying for an adult reader when it comes to themes and characterisation, even if the story is pretty straightforward.

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