By Ben Beagle
Daily News Lifestyles Editor
March 11, 2006
Readers are making a connection with Mattie Gokey, the teen heroine struggling with family responsibilities in Jennifer Donnelly’s novel A Northern Light.
“A young woman like Mattie … reminds readers about their own dilemmas, and (they) can appreciate her turmoil,” Frances McNulty of Batavia wrote in her entry for the “A Tale for Three Counties” book review contest. “I’ve allowed myself to speculate her decision was the right one, with the remainder of her life personally satisfying.”
The project has people in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties reading the novel and talking about it at discussions at local libraries. Donnelly will visit the area March 23 to 25.
McNulty and five other readers will get to connect personally with Donnelly during her visit. The six were winners of a book review contest that was part of this year’s community reading project.
The contest, in its third year, saw nearly 20 entries from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Members of the Tale for Three Counties Council read the entries and selected winners.
“We were impressed by the number of entries in the contest this year and found that it was a challenging process to select just six because of the high quality of these entries,” said Leslie DeLooze the librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, who started the Tale project four years ago.
The winners are Mary Ellen Casey, Frances McNulty and Loren Penman, all of Batavia; Sarah Bass of Silver Springs, Linda DeVito of Oakfield and Meghan Hauser of Perry.
They will sit down with Donnelly for a personal discussion on March 24 at Main Street Coffee, 111 Main St., Batavia.
“To read a great book, then to actually sit with the author, ask her questions, get a better understanding of how she writes and why she writes, all without having to travel to a large urban center is an opportunity I just can’t pass up,” said Hauser, who has entered the contest all three years. “Given the chance, I’ll write that essay every time.”
Mary Ellen Casey, a retired reading specialist, said she already has lots of questions for Donnelly.
“I love the way she crafted her theme. I was just blown away. She’s quite skilled,” Casey said.
Loren Penman of Batavia wrote in her winning review that Mattie and the author found their power in words: “Words as the root of games, words that paint vivid pictures or make promises or tell lies, words that are written and spoken and unspoken, words that take your breath away,” Penman wrote.
Sarah Bass, who has attended two previous Tale author talks, said she was encouraged to pick up A Northern Light by her boss at the bookstore in Perry.
“I thought it was a very nice story. I expected sweet and bland, but found it had a lot more to it,” said Bass, who frequently reads novels that are “more surrealistic, somewhat suspenseful.”
Murder and romance are woven through A Northern Light, the story of 16-year-old Mattie’s coming of age in the Adirondacks at the turn of the century. She is trying to determine if she should follow her passion for words to college in New York City, but at the same time has responsibilities with her own family.
While working a summer job at an Adirondack resort, Mattie finds herself caught up in the disappearance of a young couple who had gone out on Big Moose Lake together in a rowboat.
The couple is the real-life Chester Gillette and Grace Brown, and Donnelly weaves their tragic love story among the pages of Mattie’s tale.
Mattie spoke with Grace just before the fateful trip. Grace gave Mattie a packet of love letters and asked that she burn them. When Grace is found drowned, Mattie reads the letters and finds that she holds the key to unraveling the girl’s death and her beau’s mysterious disappearance.
A Northern Light received a Carnegie Medal, the most prestigious award for children’s writing in Britain (where the book’s title is A Gathering Light) and a Michael L. Printz Honor Award. It made several “best books” lists when published in 2003.
Donnelly is scheduled to make presentations and sign copies of her book in all three counties March 23 to 25. Readers will be able to meet Donnelly at 1 p.m. March 23 at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; and 7 p.m. March 23 at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia; 7 p.m. March 24 at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and 2 p.m. March 25 at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, a program presented by the Wyoming County libraries.
“People who attend the talks get a first-hand opportunity to hear many things about the writing life,” DeLooze said.
And the booksignings that follow, DeLooze said, are “a great chance to have a personal moment with the author.”
Copies of A Northern Light will be available at each presentation.
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation