Disclaimer: this review is going to be embarrassing.
Oh book, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I madly adored Jennifer Donnelly’s ‘A Northern Light’, that even weeks after having finished it, I still fondly remember how awesome, how beautiful this book was written and how lovestruck it made me as a reader. It tells the tale of sixteen-year old Mattie Gokey, in the year 1900s, which quite frankly overwhelmed me prior to reading it because I frequently struggle with historical-flavored fiction. And yet it got me head over heels on the first chapter alone, leaving me incoherent, wordless and asfdahgfoasfd.
How lovely, how real, how rich. Yes I know how fangirly that sounds, but still. To be completely honest, even my whole family was baffled. For the entire two and a half days that I’ve been reading it, I was bragging about how good the plot’s getting at every chance I get, despite their ‘I-don’t-even-give-a-damn’ glares. It’s actually hard to talk about the greatness of the book because I’m scared I won’t give it justice. So as you might have already noticed, I’m trying to give you a picture of me whilst reading it instead.
It’s the kind of fiction that blows your mind, gets under your skin and never leaves. It’s the first book that I have literally embraced, holding it close to my chest while I’m drowning in blankets and muttering “Book, I love you, I love you,” in the darkness of 2am. I’m not even kidding.
So okay, I still wanna try to talk about why I’ve gone crazy over this book so I came up with a list instead to further elaborate my reasons in the most organized way I could possibly do it.
Characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs. The vivid writing makes every character individually compelling, flawed, likeable, disgusting, scandalous, awesome, unforgettable. Mattie Gokey, the heroine, is plucky, brave, smart and sassy like most YA book teen stereotypes, but everything else about her screams ORIGINAL. Her obsession for words, writing, reading and books easily makes her a champion in my book, but what really made her special is the fact that despite her attachment and faith in literature, she keeps her head in touch with reality.
There’s a profoundly striking scene about the pains of childbirth and pregnancy where she actually dissed fiction writers for being glorified liars on the account of sugarcoating reality. It’s a tender moment for someone who loves fiction that much and you will mourn with her as the devastating realization sinks in.
“And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn’t have written even one poem if she’d had two howling babies, a husband bent on jamming another one into her, a house to run, a garden to tend, three cows to milk, twenty chickens to feed, and four hired hands to cook for. I knew then why they didn’t marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn’t want to be lonely my whole life. I didn’t want to give up on my words. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn’t have to. Charles Dickens didn’t.”
Plot is alive. I don’t wanna go all technical about the pacing of the book or its tones and whatnots, but this I can say for sure: the plot is powerful. It moves rather fluidly in a well-crafted motion, while gracefully confronting themes like gender discrimination, societal prejudices, extreme poverty, land ownership, racism, murder, literary liberties and educational reform. All of these seemingly hardcore concepts are woven in a manner so headstrong, unafraid and honest, without you suffering from a headache.
It’s brimming with insights, and it doesn’t only educate you with fun historical glimpses; it provokes you to think many what ifs and whys. I’m bananas about this kind of books that is not scared to challenge the reader because I feel intellectual, esteemed and trusted. Jennifer Donnelly clearly not only cares about her characters but she also holds high respect for her readers.
Kickass Wordplay. Probably one of the most surreal prose I’ve read in a long while. It’s unique, clever and effective in so many different ways that had me wondering how far and how long the author could keep on surprising and shocking the hell out of me. And let me tell you this: I was heartbroken when the book ended. The story is structured around dictionary definitions of words used as chapter names and literary devices, and man, you have no idea how jealous am I for not being the one who came up with that idea first. Then again, come to think of it, I’m jealous for not having written this book first! Literary envy be damned.
“Words fail me sometimes. I have read most every word in the Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language, but I still have trouble making them come when I want them to. Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get – a cold sick feeling deep down inside – when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don’t want it to, but you can’t stop it. And you know you will never be the same again.”
The lovestory actually works. Indeed, finding something out of the cliché is a thing worth celebrating. There are two love stories in these book, one from the past and one on the present. I love how these two angles reflect each other, almost intersecting at some point, like a crossroad the characters needed to pass to get through the climactic end. I like that the subject of love in this book is underplayed but still delightfully, quirkily executed. It’s a very realistic take on adolescent love and its complexities, and yes, I know how redundant I’m already sounding at this point. And can I just say that I’ve never had a crush on a literary character before but Mattie’s love interest, Royal Loomis, is quite a character I’ve never met before. So visibly flawed, but he makes thy heart tremble! I don’t even know that’s possible.
Alright, I’ll quit the gibberish now. Sorry for the wordbarf, but this is really that kind of book that you needed to read for yourself for you to understand its charm. But here’s everything in a nutshell: you will care about this book. And who knows, you might love it the same way I did, too.