Jennifer Donnelly mixes a sensational true-life murder with a compelling and original coming-of-age story in her first novel for young adults, A NORTHERN LIGHT, set in 1906.

This rich, beautifully written page-turner reminds us that just because a book is written for a younger audience doesn't mean it shouldn't—and can't—be held to the same high standards as adult fiction.

Sixteen-year-old Mattie is a girl who is forced to act like an adult now that her mother has passed away, leaving her—the eldest of three sisters and one runaway brother—to run the farm while her father is off earning money.

Mattie is one of the most charming characters of recent young adult literature—she's a bit of Jo March from Little Women in her desires and dreams, and a dash of Scarlett O'Hara in her self-determination and her love for her family and its burdens she endures.

But when the body of young Grace Brown, a guest at the inn where Mattie is working a summer job, is found in the lake, Mattie's view of what is right for her changes drastically.

You'll have a hard time deciding which story is more interesting— the fiction of Mattie, or the true story of doomed Grace Brown and Chester Gillette.

The action and suspense in this beautifully crafted novel are nonstop. The tough decisions Mattie must make will have your own heart tugged in all directions.

A NORTHERN LIGHT is not some fluffy "will she get the guy in the end" teen story—this is true-grit literature that shouldn't be missed. (Apr., 400pp., $17.00)

Reviewed by: 
Taylor Morris