Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Musings: A Northern Light

A Northern Light

It's no secret that I worship at the alter of Jennifer Donnelly. I devoured the Tea Rose books this summer, stalked the Harvard Coop to get Revolution, and @reply her like a freako, but rereading A Northern Light for class made me realize WHY I do that. She's incredible. Under different hands, to be honest, Mattie's story might not be that interesting. She's a girl who wants to go to college, whoopdeedoo, and it's 1906, which fine complicates matters. But Mattie's voice is so strong, and Donnelly's description so vivid, that the reader is as invested in Mattie's seemingly-hopeless goal as she is. 

Now, I have to admit that while I love the tie to An American Tragedy, I think it could have been played down. It's sort of a calling card of Donnelly's YA, this second voice to give the protagonist a what-if, but I'm always more interested in the other story. I do understand that Grace's letters gave Mattie the realization of how bad things could be for women, and why she had to get out and find her way, but the way they were interwoven with her history made this decision seem more abrupt than it might have been were it chronological. 

I absolutely loved the integration of the plight of female authors. A Room of One's Own before its time, in a way, Mattie contemplates why many female authors never married, how they wouldn't have had time nor energy to write if they had. The book does an amazing job of depicting how much women worked for no recognition, and how desperate their situations could be.

I do wish there'd been a little more of the other side. The positives of motherhood and domesticity. Mattie's mother shows some of it, but she also dies of cancer before the story starts. The book is better than many feminist books at showing layers, but I wish more would emphasize that CHOICE is the important thing, and what you do with that choice is up to you. 

Still, I adore this book to pieces, and bought a new copy because I loaned mine out ages ago. It's one of those books I needed to have a physical copy of, which is quite the compliment. 


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