Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light contains an unforgettable cast of characters beginning with the protagonist Mattie Gokey and her best friend Weaver Smith. Both characters are teenagers striving to find their way in the world, and, in particular, out of the woods where they live. Education is their way out, and they take it seriously. Mattie plans to go to college and become a writer; Weaver will attend Columbia and study law. They know where they are going.
Unfortunately, sometimes life intervenes. Remembering the setting of the story is 1906 in rural New York state, racism still runs rampant. Weaver, a black boy, works at the same hotel where Mattie works. He finds himself in a situation which has a domino effect on his life.
As a young black boy, Weaver is sensitive about being called a "nigger." His bitterness wells up in him, and he finds himself attacked by three drunk men who called him the "n" word. His face is cut; his nose is broken; and his lip is swollen. The sheriff promises to search for the men; however, Weaver is made to stay in the kitchen out of sight for a few days. With a acrimonious attitude, Weaver agrees to his isolation.
A few days later, the Sheriff stops by to tell Weaver that he has caught the men who beat him up and that he is going to kept them in jail for a while. A few days later, Weaver's mother's house burns down, all of her animals are killed, and Weaver's college money is stolen. His mother saw that it was the same men who had beaten up Weaver.
Neither of the young people give up. Mattie's teacher makes arrangements for her to stay in New York City. Mustering all of her courage, she ventures out into the world to find her own way. One of the most important things that she does is to share with Weaver her savings so that he can have a start of his own.
I'm leaving Weaver.
Where are you going?
I reach into my skirt pocket instead and press seven dollars into his hand.
What's this for?
For your train ticket to New York City.
Life does not always seem fair, yet hopefully there are angels [like Mattie] looking out for each of us.