Review – A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Today we hear from Bookbabbler Aly..

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

An incredible and brilliant coming-of -age drama set at the turn-of-the-century in the USA and based on a real murder. When Mattie is given the letters by a guest at the hotel in which she has a summer job she thinks that the giver is simply upset. But the next day when the woman is found drowned in Big Moose Lake Mattie has to decide if she will read the letters, or burn them as the woman requested. But Mattie has problems enough of her own as she is growing up and trying to decide on her future. Her desire to be a writer and her dreams of life outside the small rural community in which she has always lived are beginning to overwhelm her. Will Mattie make it away from home? Will she leave the family and boyfriend who both love and smother her? Will she be like her friend and settle to married life or like her other friend and mentor the poet Ms Wilcox. Slowly the two stories merge to one amazing conclusion as Mattie finds the courage to make very important decisions. Set in 1906 and built around the real life murder of a young woman in a popular holiday resort this novel is touching, surprising, moving and compelling.

A Gathering Light started off slowly for a few chapters or so, but when it kicked in, it really kicked in. Mattie doesn’t live the easiest of lives, her mother is long gone and herself and her father are the people her younger sisters rely on. It is obvious that she is a role model for them. Perhaps intellectually more intelligent than most around where she lives and ambitious, it makes her stand out from the rest. Her father is a simple farmer and, like many, they are poor. Since her mother’s passing, her father is a broken man, his son leaving for unknown reasons has only hurt him further. It is up to Mattie to keep everything in order. Throughout the novel you notice her sincerity and kindness towards those who are less fortunate than herself even though she herself doesn’t have much. People come to her for help because they feel they can depend on her. Mattie to most readers will be very relatable. She has a touching love for reading and writing and wants an education. Her father is not as supportive.

I had no idea that parts of the book were based on real life events, for example, the Grace brown murder. It’s enchanting to see Jennifer Donnelly blend fiction with reality so well. Her best friend Weaver is more fierce than most and is at a constant battle with those who discriminate against him because of the colour of his skin. Her other best friend Minnie is growing up too fast and Mattie fears she is next. It is upon meeting Royal that changes things. With the support of a teacher, her ambition to be a writer almost seemed tangible but Mattie knows if she is ever to be with Royal she will have to throw all possibilities of that dream away. A Gathering Light tackles a girl trying to survive in a cruel and often a man’s world. Upon discovering Grace Brown’s letters, she starts to peel away the layers and discovers her death may have been something completely different. Mattie must choose, is she willing to spend the rest of her life in an endless cycle or will she, unlike Grace was unable to, finally break free?

The author does not shy away when detail and very vivid descriptions are involved. Some aspects are almost horrifying when it comes to what a family may have to do and to sacrifice in order to feed themselves, as well as the detailed scene of giving birth which may be slightly difficult to read for the younger readers. A Gathering Light is an enchanting novel that I could not put down. It demands your complete attention and wills you to listen to to a story that must be told.

Thanks Aly, and thank to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending us a copy.