Friday, 5 November 2010
Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
But when her dad insists that she accompany him on a trip to Paris, Andi stumbles upon an old diary that seems to call to her. Through its story of love and loss, revolution and bloodshed in 18th century Paris, Andi finds herself drawn further into this dangerous world than she could ever have imagined.
Reading Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution is a multi-sensory experience. It's all so vividly described that I finished the book feeling as though I'd visited the dank Parisian catacombs myself, and heard the emotion in the music of fictional composer Amade Malherbeau. Even our protagonist's over-medicated state of mind is reflected in these pages, leaving the reader occasionally as disorientated as teenage narrator Andi herself. This is a book that, if you let it, will seep into your consciousness and linger there for days afterward.
We meet main character Andi at her lowest ebb, in a spiral of self-destruction that stems from her grief and guilt over her younger brother's death. Relying on prescription drugs to get through each day, she's flunking her classes and can't seem to care about the fact that if she doesn't turn it around, she might not graduate from her exclusive New York private school. Initially, I was surprised that Donnelly had chosen to give her bereaved protagonist such a wealthy and privileged background, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is no accident. Besides, Andi's grief is so palpable that it's impossible not to sympathise with the terrible sorrow that she feels.
Andi shares the narrative with Alexandrine, a theatrical player from 18th century Paris, whose diary she discovers concealed in a guitar case. Through diary entries we're taken back to the time of the French revolution, and the life of a girl employed as companion to the little prince Louis-Charles. While I didn't find Alexandrine's voice quite as striking as Andi's, and her sections are sometimes slow-moving, their two viewpoints are seamlessly woven together into one compelling tale that's impossible to put down. By turns terrifying and heartbreaking and uplifting, it's a story that draws upon the extremes of human experience: love and loss, self-sacrifice and brutality.
The great achievement of this story is that, through her present-day protagonist, Jennifer Donnelly makes the events of the French revolution utterly relevant to the 21st century YA reader. Even before Andi experiences her actual time slip, Alexandrine's two-hundred-year-old words hit home with a powerful sense of urgency and immediacy. The parallels between Andi's loss and Alexandrine's own torment certainly give us a deeper understanding of our protagonist's emotional journey, but they also remind us that the lessons of history should never be forgotten.
Revolution is staggeringly well-crafted. There's a sweet love story here too, and an ending so perfect that it'll fill even the most cynical reader's heart with hope. I recommend it wholeheartedly. It's beautiful and powerful and thought-provoking, and it might just make you look at the world in a new light.
Out: October 13th 2010, UK / October 12th 2010, US
Many thanks to Bloomsbury for providing a review copy.