Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Gail the Witch Strikes Again

Here I am again, the only person in the world who doesn't like a particular book. I feel like the Simon Cowell of the kidlit world. I know, I know. I'm giving myself way too much credit. I'm not important enough to be Simon Cowell.

Anyway, today I am here to complain about A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, a book that has even won awards in other countries. A lot of the reviews and press for this book made me think it was going to be a variation the real life murder case behind Theodore Dreiser'sAn American Tragedy. I was psyched. And the book starts out with the main character working at the resort near the lake where the murder took place.

But then A Northern Light turns into a bookish-misunderstood-girl- trying-to-escape-the-farm story. I know this story might be new to teenagers, but I've read it before. The murder story and the historical novel about resort life at the turn of the last century, which I would really have liked to have read, were just a minor part of the book. The flipping back and forth between the book I wanted to read and the book I didn't want to read again was annoying as all getout.

I think Donnelly could have kept the focus on the resort story and still covered the thematic material she wanted to cover--the girl trying to get away, the status of women at that time, the lure of a boy with whom this particular girl can never be happy. All these things could have been part of the lives of the employees and guests at the resort. Instead, we have one cast of characters for the resort and another cast of characters back on the farm. We also had your classic teen novel with problem piling up on top of problem. A lot of it was so unnecessary.

Here's something interesting, though. The main character's last name was Gokey. I thought, How interesting. When I was a girl I used to have people tell me that my name was pronounced Gokey. (Which it wasn't, but people were always telling me how my name should be pronounced when I was a kid.) Lo and behold, around page 143 it turns out that the family's real name is Gauthier. The nonFrench speakers in the area just called them Gokey.

Another interesting by-product of having read this book is that now I want to read An American Tragedy.

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