Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

* Note:  I'm trying a new format for the reviews, so this may look a little different.

What You Need to Know:  Revolution is a historical fiction book with a twist.  This is the story of a very modern, very screwed up girl who finds inspiration and hope in the diary of a girl who lived and died during the French Revolution.  Beautifully written and engrossing, I consider this one of the best books of 2010. 

Summary: Following the death of her little brother, Andi's life has fallen apart.  Her dad has split, her mom's gone crazy and Andi only survives due to medication and her music.  When Andi's mom is hospitalized, Andi is forced to go to Paris with her dad.  There she finds the diary of Alexandrine, a girl who lived during the French Revolution.  Alexandrine was a performer, who was a special companion of the Dauphin, the heir to the throne of France.  When the Revolution comes, and Louis-Charles is imprisoned, Alexandrine risks everything to give him what comfort she can.  As Andi becomes more engrossed in Alexandrine's story, the two girls' lives begin to converge in surprising ways.

What Worked:  Donnelly has a special gift, for instructing her reader with out lecturing them.  Although I had a pretty good background in the French Revolution, I learned without realizing it, as the information is seamlessly integrated into the story, not dumped in big chunks of exposition.   Donnelly also humanizes her historical characters, so that they are just as flawed and sympathetic as the characters she creates, not dusty cardboard cutouts.  Those two things -- history lessons disguised as narrative and stock characters  -- are two of my biggest beefs with historical fiction, and both are avoided here.

The amount of craft in this book is truly amazing, so many different threads -- the fate of Alexandrine, the implosion of Andi's family, the causes of the Revolution, musical DNA, the Paris catacombs, depression, survivor's guilt, art, The Divine Comedy -- all come together to weave a compelling and engrossing story.  Yes, at 500 pages, there is a lot of book here, but it doesn't feel overlong or padded.  The length is necessary for the complex tale.

What Didn't:  Personally, I could have lived without the love story angle.  I know from interviews that Donnelly took a lot of inspiration from The Divine Comedy and wanted to show an artist traveling through their version of hell with a guide.  Andi's Virgil is so smoking hot and wonderful, how could she not fall in love with him?  However, I'm not sure it worked.  I also felt like Donnelly was trying to make some paralells between the climate during the Revolution and the treatment of refugees in modern Paris that never really came off.  

However: These are quibbles, overall there wasn't much wrong here.

Who I Would Give this Book to:  Kids who share Andi's love of music.  Girls who like historical fiction.  Boys who would be intersted in the bloody Revolution.

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