Born in 1963 in New York, Jennifer Donnelly spent time with her grandparents in Lewis County, New York. Through listening to the stories told by her grandfather and mother, she learned of the hardships her family had to endure when they immigrated from Ireland to New York. As Donnelly listened, she absorbed the structure, timing, and suspense of good story telling.
In her late teens, she lived in London and spent every available minute in the East End, captivated by the city that would shape her first novel, Tea Rose. In 1986, she graduated from the University of Rochester with degrees in English and European history.
Inspiration for her books come from many sources. In an interview, Donnelly explained,
I'll see something read something, or visit a place. Maybe I'll hear a snatch of conversation, or smell something--and suddenly it's there, a small strange tingle of recognition that this thing, is meant for me to write...
Donnelly and her mother were visiting a book store. Her mother showed her Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. The book is a fictionalized account of a murder that occurred on Big Moose Lake, near to her grandparent's farm. After reading the book, she was inspired to research the real story behind Charlie Gillette's conviction for murder. From that research sprang the novel A Northern Light.
After many rejections of her work, Donnelly finally found a publisher for her three works in quick succession: a children's picture book Humble Pie, (2002); her adult novel, Tea Rose (2003); and A Northern Light (2003), a young adult novel. The latter became an overnight success. Ironically since the publication of A Northern Light, critics have compared her work to Theodore Dreiser.
A Northern Light has been described as a striking novel that will haunt readers long after closing the book. Readers will find a sensitive, powerfully written first narrative set in New York state in 1906. Donnelly conjures up gripping details of rural life, and as a result readers lose themselves in this spellbinding story.