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Mattie Gokey is the narrator and protagonist of A Northern Light. She is sixteen when the novel opens, and she is conflicted by life decisions that she has to make. She has the option of marrying Royal Loomis and settling for a safe, conventional life; however, Mattie dreams of going to college and becoming a writer. Her parents do not agree, and this causes problems for Mattie, especially because her mother is sick and dying. Mattie decides to pursue her dreams of college and begins working with her friends at the Glenmore Hotel to make money for her tuition. While at the hotel, Mattie learns of the death of Grace Brown and finds Grace's letters to her lover. Mattie becomes very involved in Grace's life and tries to piece together the clues surrounding her drowning.
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