Book Talk: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Date: October 12, 2010
Series or Standalone: standalone
ISBN: 978-0385737630
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel
A Northern Light, artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart.

First line: Those who can, do.

Funny story about Jennifer Donnelly: her other YA novel A Northern Light was the first YA book I read—and I didn’t even know it. It was my sophomore year of college and it sat on this free table in our main building. I saw it, picked it up and took it home. When I finished reading it, I minored in writing because it was the most beautiful book I’d ever read and I wanted to be able to write like that. It wasn’t until last year I learned it was YA book. So, when Revolution was given to me, I was already excited. If there’s one thing Jennifer Donnelly does well, it’s the way she manages to mingle basic words together and leave you breathless. (I think she could write a book about a cow standing in a field and it would still be incredible just because of how she wrote it.)

Revolution is complicated, heartbreaking, beautiful and brutal. Most of the book is from Andi’s point of view but so much of is Alex’s story. Jennifer brings Alex and the French Revolution (something I know nothing about) into Andi’s life through a diary. Both stories show the struggles of a people and their fight for a better life. The diary provides insight into the suffering of the royal family and the loss of the small prince. And there’s Mahlerbeau, the famous composer that Andi is studying so she can graduate, who provides a lot of mystery, explanation and thinking. These elements mingled make this is a flawless journey that is centuries apart but just what Andi needs to survive.

Typically I’m not a fan of “here’s a girl, here’s a diary she’s reading” books. They tend to be stifled and missing pieces because they rely to heavily on one over the other.  I always wanted to read person A instead B. That was never an issue here; Jennifer really nailed it in this story though. The transitions are seamless in Revolution—whether we’re in Alex’s story or Andi’s story, I am content there. I enjoyed both stories because even though they were different, they were the same. Both wrought with pain and lack of hope. Both unsure of the purpose of living. Both looking for something to believe in.

From the first page, Andi is all about pain. She is mean to everyone in her life because “for just a few seconds, someone else hurts, too. For just a few seconds, I’m not alone.” Andi has lost her brother, which pulls her through the whole book in a painstaking guilt and loss, her father who left them and her mother, who had a breakdown. Andi doesn’t care, is about to fail out of school and is breathless moments away from ending it all. In the beginning, all she has is music. In the end, she doesn’t even know if that’s enough.

My only minor complaint was toward the end. I felt like a particular series of scenes where Andi is in the past was dragging. I get the importance and the beauty of it and that makes me okay with it but I was ready for it to be over. I felt as if that delayed the ending. I also wanted more Virgil. The epilogue was rushed and felt more like I was being told things rather than showed them as I had been for the previous 490 pages. I can look past these things though. They are so minor in comparison to the rest of the story.

Everything is beautiful and stunning and played out well so that Andi and Alex come to the same realization and it changes them. It’s an awesome thing to read on the pages. I can’t even tell you how beautiful this book is, how accurate, how raw. I promise that it’s worth a read. The words will resonate within your soul if you’ve ever lost or loved or felt guilty, if you’ve ever wondered why all this is how it is then you just need to read it.

Source: Given at NEIBA

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