Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Even though it is very far off the beaten path of what I usually read, I loved it. It's the reason I am now trying to read outside my comfort zone and it even made my top ten books read in 2011. It took me a while, but I finally made it to A Northern Light.
A Northern Light is a historical novel told in two parts. In the present (tense, that is, it is a historical novel), Mattie is working at a summer camp (more of a really nice summer hotel for rich people). When one of the guests drowns, the incident wouldn't involve Mattie, except that this guest had given Mattie personal letters to burn that indicate her death might not be an accident after all. Weaved into this mystery is the story of how Mattie came to work at the camp, struggling between her duty as a daughter and her desire to pursue her dream.
The novel was labeled "Horror/Mystery" at the library and that was a little misleading. Once I got over my expectations for the book, I was able to really enjoy it. Jennifer Donnelly's writing is always lyrical and emotional, and a story that seemed a simple tale of a farm girl deciding between her dream and her duty became something more.
We get a story about the hopes and dreams we have for ourselves, and the pressure to live up to our parents expectations. We see the struggle to succeed in a world that wants to hold us back. None of the characters felt like villains to me, because they were all just trying to make the best life they could with what they had been given. And none of it is pretty. Donnelly handles a lot of tough subjects beautifully: women's rights, racism, alcoholism, poverty.
Much like my experience with Revolution, A Northern Light broke me over and over again as the gritty reality of a 1906 rural farming town unfolded, but in the end I was left with hope. Mattie is an inspiration for courage and one of my new favorite literary heroines. I can't wait to read more by Donnelly and expect her books to become some of my regular rereads.
Unfortunately, A Northern Light counts for none of my challenges, as I read it in 2011.