Study Guide

A Northern Light Coming of Age

By Jennifer Donnelly

Coming of Age

Becoming an adult isn't like taking the red pill or the blue pill like in The Matrix; Mattie doesn't just wake into a new reality. Instead, in A Northern Light, she gradually moves away from the simplistic black-and-white world of her childhood toward a far more nuanced and complicated vision of reality. This is adulthood, in all its messy and tangled glory. And guess what? The path Mattie treks to get there is pretty thorny in its own right.

But so it goes with coming of age—you might even say, it's not possible without struggle. And as the book ends, it's super clear that Mattie's struggle has all been worth it.

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. Does Mattie have to become aware of the reality of her world to grow up (like Frank Loomis's indiscretions or the reality of childbirth), or are these realizations just happenstance?
  2. How does Donnelly's choice to showcase the more difficult realities of the early twentieth century mirror Mattie's growth and maturation?
  3. How do Grace Brown's letters demonstrate a mental transition from immaturity to maturity, and how might Grace's transition be similar to or differ from Mattie's?

Chew on This

Mattie is content to think that her rural community is simple and uncomplicated, and even though she changes, her perspective on this does not.

It is only through rejecting others—Royal, Pa, Weaver—that Mattie is able to actually come into her own.

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