Wednesday, 26 December 2007

A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly

(British title for "A Northern Light")

This one must be one the most gripping book I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for something extremely hard to put down at night (or on the bus/train/at work/while cooking…) read this. I’m not sure what made it so interesting, because when I talk about it at customers in the shop they never seem impressed. In fairness it didn’t appeal to me either at first (before I started reading it), but it is a Carnegie Medal winner and I knew it had to be good. Its charm relies on the simple, or better, the old fashion style of the narration. It doesn’t try to allure you with skilful or fancy techniques, but the story and the characters are interesting enough to get you hooked in few pages. That, and the fact that it deals with a smart and determined girl’s passion for books, reading and writing. During the sexist and conservative America of the 1900’s. I believe this could have been enough to make me love it. But the book had much more to offer.

Set at the beginning of the 21st century in North America, it’s told by the 16 year old protagonist Matt, on two time levels: the present - July, 1906 - when Matt is working at a hotel, at the time of Grace Brown’s death, who drowned mysteriously in the nearby Big Moose Lake. And the very recent past, when Matt is living in a farm with her father and her sisters, while trying to find a way to escape her life and become a writer in the Big City. Therefore, the true story of Grace Brown’s murder is intertwined with Matt’s fictional one in an unlikely but completely absorbing way. On one hand we get to know Matt closely, and we learn to love her. An aspiring writer, with lots of talent, but no support from her family, who need her more in the farm than in school. We get to live in a farm and understand how hard it was to make a living out of it, while trying to feed the children, keep the house clean and your father happy, without a mother to take care of it all. We meet the minor characters who are almost as interesting as Matt’s herself, especially her teacher, who is so important for her self-esteem and for feeding her dreams of freedom and independency.
At the same time we get to know another girl, Grace Brown, through the letters that she gave Matt before dying, and we slowly begin to understand the chilling truth that lies behind her death. Although I didn’t know anything about the case of Grace Brown before reading the book, I knew it was about a murder. But finding out why and how she was killed is not the key point. While reading her letters, Matt establishes a connection with the girl, she suffers for her, hopes for her, feels pity for her. Until she realises something very important that helps to change her life completely.
Like many young adult novels, this one is about finding out one’s real self and realising one’s dreams. But its deep yet simple story is so enthralling, it makes it unique. A book to treasure, and to recommend to anyone, always.
Once again, with the “Something about me Challenge”, I found a beautiful book that will remain a favourite for many years. Thanks to Diane for choosing it, great choice!

other blog reviews:
Megan at Leafing through life
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
Book Muncher


alisonwonderland said...

very nice review! i'm adding this one to my to-read list!

Ana S. said...

You know, I don't think I'd ever heard of this one, even though it is a Carnegie Medal winner. But it really sounds like something I'd enjoy. To the TBR list it goes!

Corinne said...

I've picked this up and looked at it at Borders so many times. You've convinced me I need to just get it already! Great review, thanks :)

Lana said...

I was a bit hesitant about this one - the back cover copy just didn't sound all that intriguing. But I agree with you, the book packs an amazing punch. There's so much raw emotion and intensity - it definitely deserves its awards!

I've linked to your review here.

- Sugar Cube - said...

I loved this novel!!

Although am a bit confused...
"While reading her letters, Matt establishes a connection with the girl, she suffers for her, hopes for her, feels pity for her. Until she realizes something very important that helps to change her life completely. "

Can you elaborate as to what she realizes ?? And how it helps her make her decision ?

valentina said...

Hi there,
thanks for your comment.
I'd rather not elaborate on that particular bit as to do so would mean spoiling the book for those who haven't read it yet and might stumble on this comment. Moreover, if you have read it I'm sure you noticed it too, but maybe you interpreted her decision in a different way?
Also, I have read A gathering Light more than three years ago,as you can see from the date of my review, so I'd need to go over it again to be able to debate it with you more extensively! :)
and happy future readings,