A Northern Light


Jennifer Donnelly

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Grace Brown is dead. And Mattie Gokey, who works at the hotel where Grace was staying, cannot stop thinking about what Grace told her the day before she died. Read page 40, starting at "I walk back to the ice-cream churn," to end of page 41. Mattie reluctantly took the letters and hid them under her mattress until she had time to burn them, but before she did, Grace's body is found in the lake. She and her fiancé had been out for a boat ride and disappeared. Now Mattie wonders: should she read the letters? Should she tell someone about the argument she'd observed between Grace and her fiancé?

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Why doesn't Mattie's father want her to work at the Glenmore? Does that seem like a good decision?
  2. Mattie promised her dying mother that she would stay home and take care of her sisters. Does it seem fair that she should have to sacrifice her dream? What would you do in Mattie's place?
  3. Mattie's friend Weaver gets involved in several confrontations. Why does he get involved? Do you think he is doing the right thing?
  4. Mattie keeps Grace's letters secret for a long time. Was this the right thing to do? Why or why not?
  5. What kind of person is Royal Loomis? What does Mattie like about him?
  6. Why has Mattie's teacher, Miss Wilcox, come to teach at her school? What will happen to her if she doesn't return to her husband? Is this situation fair?
  7. What do Mattie and the other waitresses do to "Table Six"? Would you have done the same?
  8. Mattie asks Weaver, "Why aren't people plain and uncomplicated? Why don't they do what you expect them to do, like characters in a novel?" Do you agree with Mattie? Are characters in books simpler than people in real life?
  9. Describe Mattie's friend Minnie's relationship with her husband. Does this seem like a realistic view of marriage in the early 1900s?
  10. What does Mattie decide to do at the end of the book? Do you agree with her decision? Why or why not?

If you liked this book try

  • Boston Jane by Jennifer Holm
  • The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
  • Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril, and Romance by Marthe Jocelyn
  • The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordon
  • The Borning Room by Paul Fleischman


Old-fashioned candies like Mattie's family eats: maple sugar, wintergreen hearts, horehounds, lemon drops, etc.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.