Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Breakdown of a Heroine: Mattie Gokey

A Northern Light (Goodreads | Amazon

Who is Mattie?
Mattie is a sixteen year-old girl from the Adirondack Mountains.  After her mother died of breast cancer and her brother leaves town, Mattie is forced to grow up quickly, almost becoming a parent to her younger sisters.  Despite the hardships and poverty surrounding her, Mattie has big dreams of going to college and becoming a famous writer.

Strength of Character
Mattie has the quiet type of strength.  She may not be much in a fight, but she's got steel at her core and handles herself well in stressful situations like when her family falls ill or her friend goes into labor and she's the only one there.

Mattie's Storyline
Mattie is a poor farm girl with a stubborn Pa.  He loves her, but since his wife died he relies on Mattie to help run the household.  Mattie dreams of graduating high school and going off to college in the city, whereas her father wants her to stay at home and help run the family farm.  When they need some financial help Mattie takes a job at the Glenmore, a local hotel, in hopes of both helping her family and saving for college.  When a young woman staying at the hotel asks Mattie to burn a bundle of letters, then later turns up drowned in the lake, Mattie begins to read the letters and unravel the mystery of Grace's life and tragic death.

Romantic Entanglements
Mattie, who considers herself plain and bookish, is pretty smitten when Royal Loomis starts giving her attention.  She quickly falls head over heels, though she is more in love with the idea of a relationship than Royal himself.  Even though she's dreamed her whole life of being a writer, she realizes that most women writer's don't have families.  She's faced with a choice between her dreams and her relationship with Royal.  Mattie struggles with competiting desires for Royal and for the future she's always dreamed of. Very few books actually tackle this topic, how children and family limit women's dreams in a way that feels authentic and isn't divisive, but a Northern Light handles it perfectly.

What I like about Mattie as a heroine is that she grows throughout the novel.  Earlier in the novel, she has dreams but struggles to stand up for herself against what feels like impossible odds.  But through working at the Glenmore, things life throws at her and reading Grace's tragic letters she becomes stronger.  By the end of the novel she realizes that sometimes you have to make difficult decisions for yourself even though it's easier to let life sweep you away from your dreams.

This book is excellent all around, following both Mattie's story and Grace's story through her letters.  It's well-written, with a complex interwoven narrative and characters that are believe, imperfect and wonderfully developed.  This book has such a wonderful sense of place and time period, while being timelessly relevant.

Audiobook Narration
The narration for this audiobook is perfection.  The narrator does different accents and captures Mattie wonderfully.

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