Saturday, 2 February 2013

A Gathering Light

A Gathering Light
Jennifer Donnelly
London, Bloomsbury, 2003, 398p

I started this book blog because I am a rather forgetful person. I like almost anything I read - I have had complaints that these reviews aren't particularly critical, and that I never have a bad thing to say about the books. That's because I appreciate the fact that someone has taken the time to create something for me. I admire that. This blog isn't critical because it is for my own benefit - if anyone else enjoys it, that makes me very happy - but I read so much that I often forget what I have read, even if I can remember that I loved it.

A Gathering Light: case and point. I read this novel last year, as it was on the Carnegie medal in 2003 - as part of my MA in Librarianship, we were discussing the formula for an award-winning piece of children's literature. And Jennifer Donnelly has it down to a fine art form.

But when I recommended it to a student this morning, I found myself at a loss as to why I had loved it last year. So after a quick skim read (and a more detailed read of my favourite parts), here is a summary of my thoughts.

This novel is the story of Mattie, who I adore. She is a masterpiece in the form of a teenage girl; she is unbelievably real. She is a young girl torn between obligation to her family and her desire to get away to be educated in the big city. She is equally smart and loyal; but she struggles to know which path is the right one for her.

Mattie's story is paralleled by the story of Grace Brown, whose body is found in the river that runs through Mattie's town. Mattie finds Grace Brown's letters, written to her lover in the build up to their elopement. A tragic tale unfolds, with Mattie as the witness.

Throughout the novel, Mattie is learning new words, which she shares with her family and with the reader. I learnt a lot of incredible language. Mattie is supported by her school teacher, Miss Wilcox, who dreams of seeing Mattie in New York City at school. Miss Wilcox is also encouraging Mattie's best friend Weaver to go off to school - Weaver is an African-American boy who is brilliant at maths. She is an inspiring teacher, willing to believe that these children can achieve anything they want to. She gives them private tuition, and allows Mattie to borrow anything from her vast library. 

This award-winning novel has everything. It is has friendship, family and romance. It has hard decisions and everyday drama. It has comic characters, to lighten the load. It has an incredibly heroine, surrounded by brilliant friends and teachers who help her find her way. 

But best of all, it was realistic, timeless, a classic. It speaks to me, despite being set over 100 years ago. I relate to Mattie, even though she is only 17 years old. I understand the difficulties she faces, having made similar decisions in the past. And I hope the student I recommended it to, currently deciding what to do with her future, will also take something meaningful from Jennifer Donnelly.

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