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4.4 out of 5 stars113
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 21 June 2004
I saw this book being reviewed by Richard and Judy and thought I'd give it a go as I'd been poorly and stressed about uni and needed something to take my mind off things. Well this did the trick alright!
I just loved this book even though one half of it is about a young woman who has drowned in Big Moose Lake which is not fictional, but the decriptions of the conditions that our heroine Mattie has to live in, playing housewife as she has to look after herself and all her sister and her father as her mother had died.
The way things were then and how they had to scrape and work so hard for just a few cents just to eat makes you really understand what she has to live through each day and the sense of drudgery she feels and why she would feel so guilty by following her heart and pursuing her academic dreams away from this, as she would have to leave her family to cope without her.

Even though this is set in early 1900's North America, it didn't feel alien, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author shows us how Mattie is thinking about life and about boys and asking the questions that young women ask today like 'why would he pick me?', Even though its your dream guy and you feel like you 'should' be happy, but you still feel insecure because you know that he could have any of the pretty girls.
Even though it was set a hundred years ago its still got relevance today.
When I started reading this I read on the front the Telegraph review that if George Clooney came in you would ask him to come back later. I scoffed at that and thought... come on, as if!!
Well I'm not so sure now, I just couldn't put this book down, I was so absorbed, more than I can remember in any other book, when bad things were happening for Mattie I felt her despair and when she was happy I felt it too.
Well enough is enough I cannot recommend this book enough, its got a little bit of everything in it, though its not a happy happy sort of book, its satisfying and real.
Its probably more suited to girls, in terms of age range, I'm 21 and now my mum (50's) is going to read it. I loved it and I'll probably be re-reading it soon! I wish there was a sequel, I want to know how things turn out in the long-term for Mattie!
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on 20 August 2004
Upon reading the first few pages of this book, I thought it might be another one of those borderline books which doesn't really leave much of an impression. I was very wrong!
It is a story of a young girl who loves books and has a dream of one day being a writer. However Mattie Gokey must set these dreams aside to look after her sisters and her overworked father after her mother had died. Set in 1906, Matties story is fictional but is tied together beautifully with the story of a real girl who was murdered in the same year as the story is set.
The book flows in such a wonderful way and although the chapters alternate between seasons, it is not at all confusing and this actually adds to the emotional strength of the story.
A very heartfelt story, it is really easy to relate to the battle between Mattie's family, and the promise she made to her mother to look after them, and Matties's dreams, of finding her own feet in the world through her writing.
As Mattie reads Grace Browns letters,(the name of the murdered girl), their worlds seem to merge, they are so different yet strong connections between the two may change Mattie's life forever. This is a definite recommendation, a truly lovely story.
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on 26 July 2004
A GATHERING LIGHT, by Jennifer Donnelly.
On a Farm on Lake Moose in America, Pa Gokey is struggling to make a living. His wife is dead. Now it must be left in the hands of his eldset daughter Mattie, to carry out the daily tasks. The ploughing, the sowing , milking the cows, feeding the pigs and chickens, as well as washing the clothes, tending the house and making sure the evening meal is on the table for the family at night. Mattie knows too well, the price that is to be paid for a poor harvest. The long bitter winters up in the region known as the Lakes, at the turn of the century, can be deadly. Yet it is always her indomitable spirit as well as her unselfish nature that helps her rise above these adversities. A few cents earned by Mattie, during what little spare time she has, picking and selling wild berries, is spent on sweets for her siblings.
But THE GATHERING LIGHT, is not just a story outlining the hardships and privations faced each day by young Mattie and her family. For Mattie is a talented student. She earns a scholarship. A chance for her to go to New York, where she will study literature and enhance her love of reading. But this talent is often ridiculed by her family, friends and especially her Pa. For what good are books, or possessing the abilty and imagination to write stories, when there are harvests to gather, and a Farm to help run? For Mattie, her one inspiration is her teacher, Miss Wilcox, who recognises in Mattie her true potential.
Against this background and entwined with the fictional character of Mattie, a real life murder plays an essential part in the story. On July 12 1906, the body of a young woman, Grace Brown, is washed up on the Big Moose Lake shore. She is presumed, at first, to have drowned as the result of a boating accident. On the day before the tragedy Grace hands over to Mattie a bundle of her letters. It is through reading these letters, that Mattie begins to learn of the events, leading up to this mysterious accident. An accident which is beginning to look like murder.
One of the important aspects of this novel transpires, that through the fictional character of Mattie, the sad tale of Grace and the events leading to her tragedy will now always be remembered. Her memory will be preserved.
So, will Mattie somehow overcome all the seemingly impossible obstacles that are blocking her way and begin her studies in New York? Even if her stubborn Father does eventually agree to let Mattie go how will she afford the price of a ticket to New York, the cost of staying in the City, while she carries out her studies? To say that A GATHERING LIGHT, is just a beautiful book, which it is, would not be doing it justice at all. In the skilful hand of the author, Jennifer Donnelly, it becomes a novel of mystery, suspense. An insight into daily setbacks faced by all Farmers at that time, and even in the most dire situation, Mattie's, spirited sense of humour and personal observations are evident through out. For the story belongs to Mattie. She is terrific.
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on 8 October 2006
This book deals with so many different things, bereavement, racism, love, family and so much more. It is very sensitively and beautifully written. A real murder, that of Grace Brown is woven into the story and Mattie, the narrator, has to piece the evidence together from Grace's love letters. Mattie also has to decide if she should marry her fiance, go to University or stay and work onthe farm that her father owns. It really makes the reader realise how the lives of girls at the turn of the century are so similar to ours, yet so different at the same time. An excelent read that ends perfectly.
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on 1 August 2004
When I first started reading A Gathering Light, I did not know what to expect. I had a feeling I would dislike it. Contrary to my opinions, I enjoyed it.
Set in 1906 New York State, the book chapters alternate between July and April. The plot revolves around the main character Mathilda Gokey, known as Mattie. She is striving to go on to a college education and become a writer, while coping with responsibilities on the family farm, and a relationship with the boy next door. But things take a turn for the worse, when both her boyfriend and teacher turn out to be someone they are not.
The book then ends with a chilling, real life account of the murder that the book is based on.
A great read, which kept me hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend to all. Excellent, fab, stupendous!
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on 5 June 2004
One of the reviews on the cover of the paperback version suggests that if George Clooney were to appear while the reviewer was reading 'A Gathering Light' he would be told to come back later.
I'm male, 50+, and I don't fancy George, but I entirely support this comment. Not since 'Corelli' has prose reached me so movingly. And Mattie's dilemma between loyalty and limited horizons on one hand or growth and moving away on the other is beautifully told.
A few times my eyes were moist when I finished passages. I wanted it to go on!
Read this book - George will just have to wait!
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on 25 August 2007
I've just finished this book and was totally absorbed by it. Two stories run on parallel grounds.
Set in the early 1900's, Mattie is a young lady very torn between her dreams of becoming a writer and family related responsibilities. To add to her dilemmas, she falls in love, feeling more and more confused.
Grace is another young lady whose body is found lifeless in the lake by the Glenmore Hotel, where Mattie works.
Both girls' tales entwine and merge in a clever and entertaining combination.

The prose is pictorial and detailed, conveying the surroundings, the characters and their feelings so nicely.
There's a little gem embedded in the beginning of each chapter, which is not numbered but starts off with the introduction of a new word, as part of a game that Mattie and her friend Weaver play every day to strengthen their vocabulary. Each word is irrelevant to the core of the story but there's always the appropriate space for it, a clever touch. I found myself playing along and testing my own vocabulary!

There are many themes in this book: poverty, racism, love, compassion, hope are but a few. The narrative is creative and clever, with very sad and very funny situations too. The sense of humour conveyed by Mattie is remarkable.

When I started it, I had avoided reading the summary on the back cover (a bit revealing I later realised), but I was glad I did, so that the last part of the book took me completely by surprise.
Definitely a timeless novel, I would suggest it for young readers too (15+).

P.S. A little note: "A Gathering Light" and "A Northern Light" are exactly the same book, the second one being the American original title. I was about to buy it when I realised they were the same. Just so you know.
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on 31 May 2006
This has to be one of my favourite books written by an American author. I thought that it was a beautiful, realistic portrayal of a teenager's choices and dilemmas.

The novel opens with the death of a girl at a lakeside hotel. It soon transpires that she has been drowned while boating, but the mystery is that there is no sign of her sailing companion. Our heroine, Mattie, was given some letters by the drowned girl with the enigmatic instruction to burn them. Longing to find out more about the girl, Mattie reads the letters. While this happens in the present, we read flashbacks of Mattie's struggle to come to the hotel to work, her longing to be a writer, her romance with the boy she sees as too good for her and the promise that she made to her mother [to look after the family] which is becoming harder to keep.

A thought-provoking, poetic read. Enjoy.
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on 13 March 2006
what an excellent book! I bought this book as I had read the authors other book and thoroughly enjoyed, again she ties in facts from history with her own characters and makes you care for both!! the story follows Mattie at two different stages in her life and intertwines them with a wonderful flow. we can feel mattie grow up and follow her life at this awkward time.
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on 23 July 2004
i love this book its exellent. It took me quite a while to get into it, though once i had i realised what an exellent book it was. The story is of Mattie, and also a real life murder that actually happened. You feel so sorry for Mattie all the troubles she has faced in the past and the ones she still has to face. At the end of the book it tells you aboutthe real life murder that actually hapened it makes you feel even more in touch with the book. I think that Jenifer Donelly is one of the best writers around. I hope she is writing some more books, and maybe this might just change the face of writing for teenagers.
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