Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown asks her to burn a bundle of secret letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers the letters reveal the grim truth behind a murder.
(Summary from back cover)
Mattie Gokey izz mai heeroh 4evah babee.
Yup. It's true. Love that girl. I'll even venture to say that she's one of my favorite literary heroins thus far in my reading career. She's that awesome.
The whole synopsis of the book is sort of misleading because you go into it expecting a semi-chilling Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque mystery thing - which it's not. The whole murder takes a backseat to Mattie's story. It really only acts as a reference event to build off of - a turning point in Mattie's life. You don't learn that much about Grace or the events of the crime but those details aren't sorely missed. The characters are good enough to have the book to themselves.
Like Mattie's dad, for example. He's portrayed so many different ways. As a strict and over-bearing father, a mournful widower, a tender and loving parent, and a harsh disciplinarian. You get to see all these different aspects of the same man which adds depth to his character. I felt as if he could have been real - he had flaws and issues but he was also compassionate and misunderstood.
The other great thing about this book was how it centered around Mattie's schooling and learning, literature in particular. She gets away from her northern woods life through the different novels and anthologies that she reads. Her teacher opens up the world to her and encourages her to chase after her dreams.
I liked that nothing came easy for her. She had to work for what she wanted and there were often enormous obstacles in her way. That she was able to overcome all of the bad stuff that was thrown her way was inspirational and heart-breaking at the same time.
Jennifer Donnelly knows how to pull the readers' heart strings in all the right ways.
This is a thoughtful and subtle book that speaks volumes about growing up as a girl and reaching for the stars. I loved it.