A Northern Light - Jennifer Donnelly "Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that comes from your words"
Mathilde "Mattie" Gokey is sixteen living in the Adirondacks at the turn of the century. She loves to write and her teacher, Miss Wilcox, encourages her to go to college in New York City. But Mattie is torn; does she leave behind a promise she made to her dying mother, leave behind her family and security? Or does she leave behind a dream of something more?

I Liked:
Jennifer Donnelly's "A Northern Light" is an uplifting tale of a girl's coming of age. I was impressed by many things in my reading of the novel, so my thoughts are all over the place.
Firstly, Donnelly was a good writer. Obviously, she has written many adult novels, but this was her first young adult novel, and I thought she more than proved herself. The prose was beautiful, yet not ostentatious. She was able to paint her surroundings well (sometimes, I almost felt I was in the Adirondacks!), paint her characters even better (more on that in a bit), and create a realistic situation to tell her message.
The characters are brilliant, and none of them come across as stereotypes. Mattie is our protagonist and through her eyes we get an idea of what it was like to live as a woman during the turn of the century. She feels restrained by her life in a small cabin, taking care of her siblings and her father. She desperately misses her mother. She likes the feelings she gets when she is near Royal. And yet she aches to go to college, to learn to write better, to become published, and to make something of herself. Her trials and journeys in this book are poignant and meaningful, not to mention inspiring. I definitely felt myself pulling for her, hoping she would make the right choice.
Weaver was probably my second favorite character. I love how tenacious he was, how he was a sounding board to Mattie, and how, through him, we got a peak at how racism was prevalent and disgusting even in 1906.
Other characters of note are Miss Wilcox, Pa, Minnie, Aunt Josie, and Grace. All of these characters are well developed, have their own conflicts, and are brutally honest. I really ached for Miss Wilcox, as we learned why she was teaching at the small school and what her secret was. Pa was torn between taking care of his kids and trying to mourn his wife. Minnie was brutally honest about hating being married, having kids, always working, always cleaning, and being worn out. Aunt Josie makes up for a pathetic marriage by being involved in everyone else's life, and poor Grace is so desperate for love that she throws herself at Chester.
I love how the story meanders through life at the turn of the century. We get to see Mattie help her father milking cows, tending to the family, going to school, being fascinated at cars, having fun listening to her uncle Fifty's stories, and more.
But what stands out the most to me, more than Donnelly's writing, more than her characters, more than the setting is the message of the book. There are many girls nowadays in Mattie's position: caught between the easy road and the hard road. Do you want to be safe, to be in the arms of a man, but be miserable in your heart in the end? Or do you want to be thrust into the scary world, to pursue your dreams, and to live life to the fullest? The choice wasn't easy for Mattie, and it isn't easy for anyone. Not to mention, I know I forget how difficult things were 100 years ago, and books like these throw me back into the time before televisions, cellphones, or credit cards. Being a woman at the turn of the century was tough; being a woman at the turn of the century wanting to go to college while not having all of the support was even worse. But even though Mattie lives in a different era, I think many will be able to sympathize her trials. I know I was able to.
And, though this is dumb, I loved how this book felt so much like the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories my mother read me when I was younger.

I Didn't Like:
If there was one thing I didn't like, it had to be the ending. Now, don't get me wrong, I liked the choice that Mattie end up making, but I felt that it almost came out of left field. Even after finishing the novel, I was still trying to figure out where that had come from.
There were a few things included that almost didn't feel appropriate for 1906. Did they have colored Easter eggs or sheet cakes or linoleum at this time?

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Sh**, da**, and he** appear but not in too great quantity (though they do tend to spill from the mouths of Mattie's younger sisters, Lou and Beth).
One hotel guest ogles at girls and makes passes at them. Emmie Hubbard's children are said to have multiple different fathers. Mattie helps Minnie give birth. Royal gropes at Mattie on two occasions.
Grace is killed, and her body is described laying in the parlor after being retrieved. Tommy Hubbard is beat. Weaver also gets into an altercation with three trappers.

Overall:
There are many girls nowadays struggling in the same ways Mattie does in "A Northern Light". They have great minds, big dreams, but often settle for the arms of a boy, who may or may not stay with them. Mattie's story is one that I could find many girls relating too and one whose message isn't "Should I pick Boy A or Boy B?" And since there isn't too much objectionable material, I think teenaged girls should like this step back in time. Heck, I am 27, and I still liked it.