A Gathering Light
a.k.a. A Northern Light (US)
by Jennifer Donnelly
So I think I sort of loved this book. It wasn't one of those ones that I enjoyed reading every page of or one that I knew I loved reading while reading, it was one of those rare, odd books that I genuinely didn't know what I thought of until I'd finished it.Summary: Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.
Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.
I know I loved the writing while I was reading it though. Jennifer Donnelly is one of those great writers that makes you really notice the words and acknowledge that she arranged them beautifully while you're reading them (which is rare, most of the time the actual writing doesn't register with me--it only stands out if it's particularly good or bad). Like, here's some of my favourite quotes from the book:
“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get--a cold sick feeling, deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were.”
“I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you.”See? Even when I'm not enjoying the plot or other things about her stories, I still enjoy the way she writes.
Since I've mentioned the plot--that was probably the part that had me unsure of the book. It was pretty boring at times... a lot of it was pretty boring actually. I'd definitely say this was more of a character driven novel, which I wasn't expecting because I thought it would be more of a murder mystery (seeing as the story is written around a real life historical murder) but that was more of a side plot than the focus and I had little interest in it.
The characters were great, they were really well written. Mattie was an awesome protagonist, I loved the way she cared for the people in her life and her passion for words and books and the fact that she wasn't perfect. She's the kind of character I'd like to be friends with, Weaver was too.
Weaver (Mattie's best friend) was my favourite and I loved his friendship with Mattie and his personal story was one of the most interesting parts of the book (being a black guy in 1906, his part of the story deals with racism). And their teacher was awesome too--she was this fierce feminist (although the word isn't used) who refused to let men or society silence her voice and tried her best to make sure the world would hear Mattie's too.
Royal (love interest) was one of the worst parts of the book for me though. He only had one or two redeeming moments, and reading about his and Mattie's relationship was so irritating because they just didn't make sense and had no chemistry at all... and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to feel that way, but it didn't make it any less frustrating to read (it's kind of like seeing your friend date a guy who is Fifty Shades of Wrong and you just have to wait for them to see what everyone else has been seeing from the start).
To sum up, there were parts of the book that I loved fiercely and huge chunks of it that were incredibly dull but still, I'd rate it 4.5 stars out of 5 because it was wonderfully written with a cast of awesome characters that I wish I could know, and I love the way it tackled issues like racism and feminism.