Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Two weeks ago I reviewed Donnelly's Printz honor winning A Northern Light as the inaugural book in my What I Missed reading challenge. I chose A Northern Light to go first because I knew Donnelly had another book out that was getting rave reviews, and I figured I might as well read the books in publication order. I am happy I didn't delay any further, because wow, was Revolution ever a trip.

RevolutionAndi is one angry, troubled young woman. After losing her brother, her father took off and her mother is still having difficulties coping. Andi lashes out at anyone who tries to come close to her and refuses to put any effort into her schoolwork, even as the due date for her thesis approaches. The only thing Andi cares about anymore is her music - and sometimes even that isn't enough to keep the demons away.

Incensed by his daughter's near failure in school, Andi's dad insists she spend Christmas break with him in Paris so she can focus on her schoolwork while he works on a centuries-old mystery: identifying the owner of a heart long said to belong to Louis-Charles, the young prince who was imprisoned during the French Revolution. Though Andi's determined to finish her thesis in record time, she's distracted by the discovery of a diary written by Alex, a young woman who served the royal family right at the height of the Revolution. She is drawn to the diary and can't escape until she reads Alex's chilling final entries. That is, until an ill-fated trip into Paris' famed catacombs leads Andi to re-emerge into Paris in 1795, where everyone seems to think that she's Alex. Is it a bad drug trip, or has Andi actually stepped into the past? And if she's really there, can she change the future?

Wow, is Andi ever a painful person to read about. She is just so angry and hurt by her brother's death and her parents' reactions and Donnelly's writing made her ragged emotions just jump off of the page. Just devastating and heartbreaking. Donnelly also does an excellent job of describing Andi's rapidly declining mental state as Andi relies more and more on anti-depressants to keep her world in focus. Operating under the theory that if one is good, more is better, Andi takes an increasing number of pills throughout the novel and it's never quite clear if some things are happening because she is on too many drugs - or not enough.

It took me to get about halfway through the book before I was totally comfortable with using Alex's diary as our viewpoint into the past. Part of me wanted this to be a straight-up historical novel without all of Andi's angst. Or perhaps the story could have alternated chapters so we were fully immersed in Revolutionary-era France. But as Andi herself became more invested in Alex's story, so did I become invested in Andi as a character and the ways her and Alex's stories complemented and contrasted with each other.

Music fans of multiple stripes will have a lot to love in this book. I was never that great at musical theory, so some of the subtleties of Andi's obsession with the composer Mahlerbeau were lost on me, but this is an extremely musical novel filled with descriptions of both classical and ultra-contemporary music. Bigger music fans than me will probably enjoy sifting out all of the various musical references.

As she proved in A Northern Light, Donnelly has a gift for bringing the past to life through her excellent writing. With much of Revolution set in the 21st century, she proves that she's equally gifted with contemporary characters and problems, but by weaving in elements of history she helps illustrate just how timeless many stories are.
Related Posts with Thumbnails