In A Northern Light author Jennifer Donnelly seemingly follows a recipe for an award-winning YA novel. Add one-part true crime, one-part coming of age, one-part romance. Mix in a clever but never kitschy framing device. And throw in a dash of racism and feminism. While these ingredients superficially bake together well, throughout the entire book a nagging feeling prevented me from declaring it a favorite and slapping it with 5 stars. A Northern Light is a case of a book that is almost too perfect, or at the very least, too ambitious. The world of Mattie Gokey, a young woman who collects words and loves to write but must help her father and sisters in the Northwoods of New York, is richly conceived. Imagining the resorts and farms in the Adirondacks inspired me to visit there one day and made me wish I could have visited there during Mattie's time at the turn of the 20th century. In front of this beautiful backdrop, Donnelly shows the struggles of Mattie and all women to become learned and desert their traditional wifely and maternal duties. I appreciated Donnelly's exploration of the question: why are so many famed female writers unmarried and childless when men can be successful while having a family life? Watching Mattie choose between her family and writing, a choice that shouldn't have to be made, carries most of the narrative and provides excellent fodder for discussions of gender. This theme is supported elsewhere with the true crime aspect of the story, which unfolds very slowly. Although the mystery of the crime supplies the overarching narrative, in truth I found it to be rather disposable.What I most connected with, and the true strength of the novel, is the classic individual vs. society conflict. This conflict has always been my favorite because it is universal and defines my life. Mattie struggles to decide whether she should pursue what society wants for her (and what she may very well want herself) or pursue her dreams that require jumping into the abyss and abandoning her family and friends. As Mattie says, there is never any complete happy ending. A choice that may be happy for some will be devastating for others, and in seeing this conflict unfold, this impossibility becomes clear. While these positive factors should encourage anyone slightly interested to read A Northern Light, I still couldn't rate it five stars. It is so ambitious and full that it seemingly follows a formula. As a result, I nearly always knew what was coming next. This foresight did not ruin my enjoyment, but returning to my overwrought recipe metaphor, the addition of a bit more spice would have made this novel into a perfectly delicious meal without any doubts.