A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. Print.

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2003, Los Angeles Time Book Prize for Young Adult Literature

2003, Carnegie Medal

2004, Michael L. Printz Honor Book


Using the horrific true story that inspired An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly entwines the murder of Grace Brown with the fictitious story of Mattie Gokey. After the body of Gracie is discovered, Mattie becomes immersed in the young woman’s tragic passing and looks to find out what really happened.


What was life like for young women in the early 1900s? For one, women were not allowed to acquire money on their own. In other words, a woman’s money became her husband’s fortune. During this time, women were regarded as second-class citizens. As a result, the arrangement of marriage for some was nothing more but a business venture to garner a woman’s family property.

How do romantics like Mattie Grokey fair with such an abysmal treatment of love and relationships? Stuck on the farm with her father and sisters, Mattie feels trapped. Still, she dreams of running away and becoming a writer in New York City.  Can she do it? Then, Grace Brown’s body turns up dead. Mattie has her letters. Through them, she learns the truth about entrapment, death, and deception.  The question remains, does she have the will to follow her dreams?


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