Sunday, August 14, 2011

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

The move has been completed and most of the boxes have been unpacked and so it was a treat to sit down with a book and forget about the real world for a minute or two. I began reading Revolution during one of the car rides back and forth from Watertown to Mars. Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favorite authors with whom I have been acquainted since she was a guest at Sackets Harbor School. She is a North Country native and garnished awards and praise for her YA book, A Northern Light, an historical novel set in the Adirondack Mountains and based on a true story of murder and cover-up. Revolution is also historical fiction that is a bit edgier and is also grounded in the present.

Andi Alpers is a senior in high school and is on the verge of not graduating. She is suffers from depression and a tremendous guilt over the death of her ten year old brother, Truman. She lives with her mother who has had a nervous breakdown over this event and the divorce from Andi's father. Music has been the constant in Andi's life. She composes, takes lessons and has a most interesting play list on her iPod. She remarks, "…music lives. Forever. …it’s stronger than death. Stronger than time. And its strength holds you together when nothing else can.” And "boys let you down, music never does." Andi's father finds out the academic trouble she is in and intervenes. He has her mother committed to an institution and whisks Andi away to Paris with him where he is working on an genetic project and where, under his scrutiny, Andi will work on her senior thesis - a paper on how the French musician Amade Malherbeau has influenced musicians up to the present day.

Upon her arrival in Paris, Andi discovers the diary of Alexandre, a street performer who lived during the French Revolution. Through the pages of the diary, Andi begins an adventure of self-discovery as she reads of Alex's struggle in helping to protect the young dauphin, Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antionette. Further adding to this connection is the project on which Andi's father is working - DNA analysis of a heart that is believed to be that of Louis-Charles. Numerous persons have claimed to be the tortured child who actually escaped the prison in which he was held. The novel is multi-layered and circular. It is divided into parts that mirror Dante's Divine Comedy. Andi's guide in Paris is a cab driver/musician whose name is Virgil, just as the guide was through the circles of Hell.

Andi is determined to leave Paris as soon as possible, but she must finish an outline and intro to her thesis before her father will allow her. She works toward a deadline by researching Malherbeau, his works, and his life. He is inextricably tied to Alex and the Revolution. The reader travels with Andi to libraries, historic homes, and the mysterious catacombs. It is there that the truth becomes clearer to her, but where, also, the reader must suspend a grasp on reality. Andi's epiphany - "Life’s all about the revolution, isn’t it? The one inside, I mean. You can’t change history. You can’t change the world. All you can ever change is yourself."

Andi was a tough character to like at first, but she grew on me and I began to empathize with her plight. Alexandre was a feisty young woman who knew what she wanted in life, but rather than pursue that dream, put it on hold to protect the person whom she loved and who depended upon her for his life. I wanted to know more about her and the situation into which she was thrown.

Jennifer Donnelly is an AMAZING writer. Her books are meticulously researched and written. ( I joked with her once that I would gladly be a research assistant for her.) Having just returned from Paris in April, I was immediately transported back there with Andi. I have walked through the catacombs and with Donnelly's descriptions I know readers will also have that same experience vicariously. In Revolution Jennifer Donnelly proves once again that her mastery of storytelling, research, and the writing craft combine to make one fantastic read.

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