Where I got the book: bought retail for my daughter's book club.
Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey is the oldest daughter of a motherless family. Her older brother has disappeared, and Mattie shoulders much of the responsibility for keeping the family's small farm going and looking after her sisters. She still finds time to go to school, and dreams of going to college in New York and becoming a writer. But her attraction to a neighboring farmer's son, and the hopelessness of her family's poverty, are obstacles to her dreams.
A Northern Light is set in the Adirondacks in 1906, and is inspired by a real-life murder case--the one that prompted Theodore Dreiser to write An American Tragedy in the 1920s. Mattie becomes a witness to the events that precede the murder; the tragedy, and its location, are a catalyst to Mattie's own final decision as to her life's direction.
I enjoyed Donnelly's writing very much. It rang true as the voice of a young girl surrounded by poverty and vice, but with enough education to see a way out of her situation. The secondary characters were nicely drawn, and I got a real sense of the setting.
I'm not sure if Mattie's story blends entirely satisfactorily with the murder case, though. I felt that Grace Brown's letters drew me away from Mattie's far more interesting surroundings. Still, all in all I found a great deal to enjoy in this book, and tended to read on past the time I'd allotted--always a good sign.