Reread! A Northern Light

I am working with a few other adults on a high school book club at a local school. As I a librarian and lover of all things YA, getting to reread A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a dream! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the elegant writing, historical references and intrigue. I can't wait to hear what the teens have to say about it!

Near Albany, NY at the turn of the century, Mattie is the female head of the house after her mother dies and her eldest brother leaves the farm. As an advanced student, she struggles to maintain her commitment to her family, farm and the academic future she sees for herself. Then, there is also a dead body (or two?) of a man and woman who were staying at a summer retreat/hotel under assumed names. 

I enjoy how Donnelly ties in local historical culture into the narrative - the local shop/grocery floats by daily through the 4 lakes, so locals can shop for eggs, pickles and other items! It also holds a tiny library (a floating library!!). The closest store is 10 miles away (imagine) so it's not as convenient as the floating one. 

Donnelly brings to light social issues such as race, mental health, education, and income disparities through different characters. Mattie's best friend is a former slave who moved to NY with his mother. A neighbor Tommy visits with siblings who often have no food in the home, due to mother dealing with severe depressed and alcoholism. Most children leave the local school by the age of 14, as they are needed to work on the farm, which is more financially lucrative than finishing high school. 

It's easy to see how this was a Printz Honor Book, as it stands the test of time and an wonderful representation of outstanding young adult literature.

Andrea Pearlstein