Jennifer Donnelly (1963-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1963, in Port Chester, NY; Education: University of Rochester (English literature and European history; magna cum laude).
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Harcourt St., Suite 1900, San Diego, CA 92101.
Writer. Formerly worked as an antiques dealer, journalist, and copywriter.
American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book designation, Zoen honor (Netherlands), Los Angeles Times Book Prize, CILIP Carnegie Medal, Virginia Library Association Jefferson Cup honor, and Borders Original Voices Prize for Young-Adult Fiction, all for A Northern Light/A Gathering Light.
The Tea Rose, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Humble Pie, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2002.
A Northern Light, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2003, published as A Gathering Light, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2003.
A Northern Light was adapted as an audiobook read by Hope Davis, Random House Audio, 2003.
Work in Progress
The second book in the "Tea Rose" trilogy, and a young-adult novel.
With her first novel for teen readers, Jennifer Donnelly achieved the distinction of being only the second American author to win Great Britain's prestigious Carnegie Medal for children's literature. Donnelly's A Northern Light—published in England as A Gathering Light—followed her first adult novel, a historical romance titled The Tea Rose, and the picture book Humble Pie, in which Donnelly and noted illustrator Stephen Gammell team up to tell the story of how spoiled-rotten Theo crosses his grandmother and receives his just desserts.
Upstate New York State is the setting for A Northern Light, which again draws readers into the past, this time to the summer of 1906, as a young woman grows in wisdom and self-assurance while faced with tragedy. Based on a true story, the novel follows sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey, whose summer job at the Glenmore, a resort hotel on Big Moose Lake, allows her to escape from a seemingly futureless life on her widowed father's farm, where she serves as housekeeper and mother to her younger sisters. The summer job also brings her into the company of hotel guest Grace Brown. One day Grace meets up with Mattie in private, and asks the girl if she would dispose of two small bundles of letters for her. Mattie agrees, but her curiosity prompts her to read what turn out to be love letters between Grace and fellow hotel guest Chester Gillette. When the unwed and pregnant Grace is discovered drowned in Big Moose Lake a short time later, Mattie is forced to make a difficult decision.
Amid the turmoil resulting from Grace's murder, Mattie is also wrestling with major dilemmas in her own life. A talented student, she hopes for a career as a writer, and has been encouraged by her teacher to apply to Barnard College. Even if she were to have the funds to enable her to take advantage of the full scholarship she has been offered, Mattie is torn between furthering her own life and her sense of responsibility to keep the promise made to her dying mother and to care for her alcoholic father and dependent sisters. Prompted by the attentions of handsome young farmer Royal Loomis, who wishes to marry her, she also realizes that, like many women, she would have to sacrifice her writing for marriage and family.
Donnelly's multi-award-winning novel not surprisingly received a healthy share of critical praise, both in the United States and in England, where it made the years' "best book" list in several national periodicals. Compared by several critics to Theodore Dreiser's classic 1925 novel An American Tragedy—which is also based on the real-life Chester Gillette murder case—A Northern Light was described by Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy contributor Wendy J. Glenn as "a tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful—one that young readers will appreciate for its honest expression, believable characters, and thoughtful treatment of complex issues." Praising the novel as "an ambitious, beautifully written coming-of-age story," Gillian Engberg noted in Booklist that Mattie narrates her tale "in an intelligent, colloquial voice that peaks with a writer's love of language and an observant eye." Beginning her Guardian review by noting that the novel would be a compelling read for adults as well as teens, Adèle Geras concluded that A Northern Light ranks as "a wonderfully rich, involving and beautifully written book." Of a similar mind, School Library Journal contributor Lisa Prolman praised the book as "a breathtaking tale, complex and often earthy," and an "outstanding choice for historical fiction fans."
Planned as the first volume of a trilogy, The Tea Rose moves from London to New York, its action taking place during the 1880s. In the novel, seventeen-year-old Fiona Finnegan works in a London tea-packing plant, while her Cockney boyfriend Joe Bristow hopes to become a successful greengrocer. After Fiona's father is killed during a labor union rally and Fiona overhears hard-nosed company owner William Burton boast that he has caused the man's death, she fears for her own safety. Unfortunately, Fiona finds she has no one to turn to, because her ambitious but short-sighted boyfriend has decided to help his career by marrying his boss's daughter. Life becomes even more complex when Fiona's mother is brutally killed by mysterious Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper, leaving Fiona not only an orphaned young woman on the run, but now sole caregiver to her baby brother. Sailing to New York to avoid capture brings Fiona into new relationships and more adventure, as she fuels her slow climb up the economic ladder through her extensive knowledge of teas and through her desire to one day return to England and exact her revenge against her father's killer. Noting Donnelly's "delightfully straightforward storytelling," a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed The Tea Rose "a ripping yarn," noting the book's "lively plotting, big cast of warmly drawn characters and long-deferred romantic denouement." Equally enthusiastic, Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan noted that, "Steeped in romance and authentic period detail," Donnelly's debut novel "will appeal to fans of epic historical fiction."
Donnelly now makes her home in Brooklyn, New York, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two greyhounds. In an interview with St. Petersburg Times contributor Holly Atkins that is posted on Donnelly's Web site, the author offered advice to young writers. In a nutshell: Take the time to read some good books. "I couldn't afford to go to grad school or to join a workshop after I graduated from college," Donnelly noted, "but I could afford to go to the library and check out books. I could study with the likes of [Emily] Dickinson, [William] Faulkner, [F. Scott] Fitzgerald, and [James] Joyce for free. When you read, you're not only absorbing the story, you're also seeing how published writers handle the tricky problems of pacing, narrative, tension and suspense. You're experiencing different styles and techniques. You're learning what works and, in some cases, what doesn't. You're building up a store of knowledge that will only help you in your own literary endeavors."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, July, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Humble Pie, p. 1857; August, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Tea Rose, p. 1918; May 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of A Northern Light, p. 1663; May 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, "Story behind the Story: Donnelly's A Northern Light Rewriting History," p. 1631.
Bookseller, January 24, 2003, "Murder on Big Moose Lake," p. 30; July 16, 2004, "Carnegie Winner Offers Message for Teens," p. 30.
Guardian (Manchester, England), June 7, 2003, Adèle Geras, review of A Gathering Light.
Horn Book, May-June, 2003, Christine M. Hepperman, review of A Northern Light, p. 342.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, November, 2003, Wendy J. Glenn, review of A Northern Light, p. 265.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of The Tea Rose, p. 1058; August 15, 2002, review of Humble Pie, p. 1221; March 15, 2003, review of A Northern Light, p. 465.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Janet Julian, review of A Northern Light (audiobook), p. 55.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Kathy Piehl, review of The Tea Rose, p. 141.
Publishers Weekly, July 8, 2002, review of Humble Pie, p. 49; July 15, 2002, review of The Tea Rose, p. 51; March 3, 2003, review of A Northern Light, p. 76.
School Library Journal, May, 2003, Lisa Prolman, review of A Northern Light, p. 150; September, 2004, Meg McCaffrey, "Donnelly Wins UK's Carnegie Medal," p. 26.
Washington Post Book World, October 13, 2002, Brigitte Weeks, review of The Tea Rose, p. 6.
CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards Web site, http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/ (October 12, 2004), "Jennifer Donnelly."
Jennifer Donnelly Web site, http://www.jenniferdonnelly.com/ (May 31, 2004).
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