Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

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.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is a blend of historical fiction, modern teen fiction, with a touch of mystery and time travel added to the mix. It's written in the fast paced first-person perspective of Andi Alpers, with excerpts from the diary of a young 18th century aspiring actress named Alexandrine scattered throughout.

For fans of French history, the story did use an interesting historical angle: Andi, because of her discovery of Alexandrine's diary and her genius scientist father's DNA work, became obsessed with uncovering the real fate of Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Did he die? Or survive? Her hope that he has somehow lived was amplified by her own guilt over her younger brother, who bore a striking resemblance to the doomed French prince.

While Donnelly's writing is vivid and compelling, the characterization of the main character, Andi, was not as interesting. Andi does not have much to do in this book. Her struggle was mainly an internal one, which, after 400+ pages, got a little tiring. Because of Andi's upbringing, connections, and personal characteristics, most of her external dilemmas were solved for her. The unfortunate result of this is that Andi's story lacks a particular sense of oomph. She doesn't do much other than lounge around Paris and read the diary until very late in the story. I didn't really connect to Andi, because I got no sense of who she was. On the other hand, Alexandrine's story within the novel, though occasionally cliche, was full of action and intrigue and suspense, and you come to care about her life. It's unfortunate, because if Andi's angst was toned down and she was forced to confront more than her angst, I feel that the story would have had a greater emotional impact.
That criticism aside, I do highly recommend this book. While Andi can be a bit tiresome, Donnelly's beautiful prose, interesting historical angle and messages about life, death and grieving were well worth the occasional eye-roll at a too-well-connected main character.

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