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A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this astonishing novel weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and wholly original.

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"We are especially thrilled to welcome author Jennifer Donnelly to kick off our 2009 calendar, and to be reading A Northern Light to celebrate our January theme, Courage. A Northern Light takes place a hundred years ago at the turn of the last century, but her story could be equally true today - 16 year-old Mattie, a writer at heart, must overcome timeless obstacles to pursue her dreams and do what she is meant to do. We hope readergirlz will join us in welcoming Jennifer and talking about courage, dreams, and destiny." - Holly Cupala, readergirlz diva

Winner of the Carnegie Medal

Winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize

Winner of New York State's Charlotte Award

Printz Honor Book

ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults

Note: In the UK, this book is published as A Gathering Light.

Jennifer Donnelly


Things to Know

Jennifer Donnelly

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On the nightstand: Wodehouse and Beckett. The first makes my laugh till I cry. The second makes me cry till I laugh.

Favorite drink while you write: Castleton Estate's First Flush Darjeeling

Favorite bookstore: All of them. Every single one on the planet.

Favorite library: Tivoli Free Library, Tivoli, NY

Pets: My beloved greyhound, Scotty.

Place to write: My quiet, serene, light-filled office in a cottage on a horse farm in the country. No phone, no e-mail, no FedEx or DHL or UPS. Bliss!

Inspiration: The brawling, sprawling, appalling mess that is history.

Dream book tour: One that starts in the Balkans and ends up in Tibet.

Writer buddies: Just met Valerie Martin. She's so cool. She's scary-smart, but for some reason, she still hangs out with me.

Cure for writer's block: Writing. Cringe, cry, swear, scream, threaten suicide, but keep on writing.

Favorite outfit: Levi's and Blundstones. And a shirt of some nature.

Website: www.jenniferdonnelly.com

Roundtable: readergirlz and postergirlz discuss A Northern Light




rgz LIVE!

Discuss the book with the author herself. Jennifer Donnelly will be chatting live at the readergirlz forum on Thursday, January 15th at 6 PM PST/9 PM EST. The chat will last for about an hour.






When young girls like Grace go missing, the search isn't all up to the cops. Search parties often include volunteers, too—-people like you, with a passion for getting involved, a desire to help others, and endless faith in a happy ending. (Does that describe rgz or what?!)

If pitching in on a search and rescue (SAR) team sounds like something you're suited for, check out the National Association for Search & Rescue website: http://www.nasar.org

They offer loads of classes and conferences throughout the U.S. to train volunteers - usually ages 15 and older. You can also contact your local police department, as many communities have SAR programs and welcome all the help they can get.


These tunes were hand-picked by the author to accompany her book.

Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland
Amazing Grace by LeAnne Rimes
Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant
If I Should Fall Behind by Bruce Springsteen
The Wind by Cat Stevens
Everything Not Lost by Coldplay
Get Behind the Mule by Tom Waits
Mary Jane's Last Dance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Beautiful Day by U2
Let Down by Radiohead
The Infinite Sadness by Mellon Collie



Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey is at a crossroads in her life when A Northern Light opens. Have you ever been at a crossroads in your life? How did you handle it? How did you decide which road to take?

Mattie promises her dying mother that she’d always take care of her father and younger siblings. Do you think this was a fair request? Would you keep such a promise even if it meant sacrificing your own dreams?

Mattie promises to marry dull, handsome Royal even though he doesn't seem to love her, as an escape from her life. What would you advise a friend who did this?

Mattie and her friend Weaver have language duels. Do you think girls can be friends with boys without any romantic involvement? Do you have boys who are good friends?

Do you think Mattie was right to read the letters that the murdered woman asked her to burn? What would you have done?

A Northern Light is set in 1906. Would you have enjoyed living during that time? Or do you think all the restrictions on women would have made life too difficult?

Jennifer Donnelly was inspired to write A Northern Light by an actual crime. Are there any other movies or books based on real events that you've enjoyed? Is there a current event you'd like to see turned into a novel?



Invite: Tea-stained parchment, old-fashioned copperplate font, tied with a blue ribbon

Food: Lemonade, ice cream, pie . . . and fiddleheads!

Games: Language duels

Décor: Japanese lanterns, daisy chains, vases of wildflowers

Movies: An American Tragedy, A Place in the Sun


What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando  The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm  The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman  The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante  Oxford Dictionary of English

Recommended by postergirlz, the readergirlz advisory council

What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando
The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Oxford Dictionary of English


Jennifer Donnelly's first novel, The Tea Rose, now has a sequel: The Winter Rose. During London's Victorian era, India Selwyn Jones begins her career as a doctor in a poor neighborhood clinic. Caught between her fiancé and a crime lord, India negotiates her freedom through England and Africa. Filled with infectious energy, the book will leave the reader cheering for India and the man who has her heart.

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly


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No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia


Grab these books now so you may take part in our upcoming discussions:

February: No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia
March: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
April: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins


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