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A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly, tells the story of a young woman named Mattie Gokey. After her mother dies and her brother runs away, Mattie is left with her three sisters and father to handle the family farm. Despite making a promise to her mother to help her family, ­Mattie is determined to go to school and is offered a scholarship at a New York college. All that's stopping her is money for books and a train ticket, her father's lack of concern for her education, and his need for help with the farm.

When I first read this book a few years ago, I didn't connect with it as much as I do now. The striking similarities between me and the protagonist became very clear after my ­father's death. Often I found myself re-reading passages, completely taken aback by their poignancy.

I was a modern-day Mattie Gokey. Without too much attention to minor details, she and I shared the same struggles in our young adulthood. She felt obliged to care for her family and help her father after her mother passed away. Following my father's death, I felt the need to help provide for my family, ignoring the prospect of going to college. Mattie ­experienced the same degree of worry when the thought of her family managing on their own was brought up. Leaving seemed totally selfish.

One of the chapters is entitled “Dehiscence,” which isn't explained. This could be the title of the novel, since it's about escaping your situation, in the same way that plants will bud at the peak of their maturity and wounds will open and begin bleeding.

A Northern Light is about disregarding what you think you have to do and taking the chance to do what you want. Mattie ends up accepting her scholarship and leaving her family. In my case, that's ­exactly what I plan to do.

Very rarely do people ­identify so much with a character in a novel that they are ­almost certain the book was written with them in mind. I totally empathized with Mattie, and her decisions inspired me to take my future into my own hands.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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