Now with a fresh new look and introduction, comes Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing, Printz Honor-winning debut—the story of a young woman's coming-of-age and the murder that rocked turn-of-the-century America.
A Printz Award Honor Book
"A contemporary classic. Jennifer Donnelly is the master of historical fiction!" —Ruta Sepetys, New York Times best-selling author and winner of the Carnegie Medal
Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has a word for everything, and big dreams of being a writer but little hope of seeing them come true. With the fresh pain of her mother’s death lingering over her and the only out from her impoverished life being marriage to the handsome but dull local rich boy, Maddie flees from her home. She takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from Big Moose Lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.
Set in 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains, against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this Printz Honor-winning coming-of-age novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.
Donnelly's (The Tea Rose) riveting first novel for young adults, like Dreiser's An American Tragedy, was inspired by the Chester Gillette case. Narrated by 16-year-old Mattie, who works at the Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake, the book begins on Thursday, July 12, 1906, the day a search party discovers the drowned body of Grace Brown, a hotel guest. Earlier that day, Grace had given to Mattie a bundle of letters to burn, her correspondence with Gillette. As the mystery behind Grace's death unfolds, flashback chapters fill in details of Mattie's life on her family's farm. Each begins with her "word of the day," which firmly establishes Mattie's love of language and which ties in with the unfolding events. Readers soon discover that her teacher considers Mattie to be a gifted writer and, at the woman's urging, Mattie applies to Barnard College and receives a full scholarship. But as the oldest daughter of a widowed father, Mattie feels an obligation to stay on the farm, and her budding romance with handsome Royal Loomis adds further complications. Each character contributes to the narrator's growing awareness of the narrow possibilities available to women at the turn of the 20th century. Her friendships with Weaver (the only other student with college aspirations, as well as the only African-American boy in their town) and her teacher (who has a secret of her own) are especially well realized. The author's ability to recast the murder mystery as a cautionary tale for Mattie makes the heroine's pending decision about her future the greatest source of suspense. Ages 12-up.