Friday, January 21, 2011
Revolution: Jennifer Donnelly
Last year the book blog world was flooded with rave reviews about Jennifer Donnelly's historical fiction novel, Revolution. I was intrigued by this story about the French Revolution, but couldn't justify the hardcover price. Then the downtown Borders closed and offered me this beautiful hardcover at a 30% discount, much to my excitement. Now that I have read it I am so glad I didn't wait for it to come out in paperback.
Since witnessing her brother's death, Andi Alpers has lived in state of depression, lifted only by two things: music and her antidepressant medication. When her estranged father rolls into town, Andi's life is turned upside down. Her father has Andi's mother admitted to an asylum to help her get past her grief after losing her only son, and then he takes Andi to Paris with him on his next Genetics project. Angry, sullen Andi has no interest in anything except her music and doesn't want to be stuck in Paris with her father for two weeks. Her love of music quickly draws Andi to the discovery of a diary, written by Alexandrine Paradis during the French Revolution and stored in the secret compartment of an old guitar case. While writing her senior thesis on Amadé Malherbeau, Andi reads Alexandrine's diary and gets a very personal view of life during the Revolution. Alexandrine Paradis was hired by the Queen of France to entertain the Dauphin, Louis-Charles. Alex became deeply attached to the prince and found herself at the epicenter of the revolution that sees the royal family beheaded. Alex and Andi's stories are further entwined due the nature of the project that has brought Andi's father to France. A preserved human heart has been discovered and it is believed to be the heart of the Dauphin. Andi's father is in France to sample the heart and run genetic testing against hairs from Marie Antoinette which will prove if the heart shares the queen's DNA. Andi becomes emotionally invested in the results of the genetic testing because of what she reads in Alex's diary. In an interesting plot twist, Andi awakes in the year 1795 as Alex and not only witnesses life during the Revolution, but also meets Amadé Malherbeau.
I struggled a bit with the character of Andi. Being rather familiar with depressed and grieving teenage girls, I had a hard time believing all of her motivations. No matter how angry I may have been in my own teenage years, I would have looked upon a free trip to Paris with total and utter glee! Andi, on the other hand, doesn't want to go, and is eager to leave as soon as she arrives. However there are other aspects of her character that I really appreciate--namely her love of music and her survival skills. Donnelly has created a modern young woman who is intelligent and capable, if not altogether plausible. Conversely, the character of Alex is easily admired. She is a very real heroine; initially attracted to a job with the royals for the money and prestige, she finds herself truly caring about the Dauphin and his family.
Donnelly has obviously done a lot of research, sprinkling interesting facts throughout her novel that enrich her excellent storytelling. It seems as if every detail has been considered, which brings the scenery to life. The scenes in the Catacombs in 1795 made my stomach roll in disgust at the incredibly detailed descriptions of rotting corpses and the smells with which they filled the tunnels. Donnelly's study of the French Revolution allows her to relate the story of how the people of France threw off the Royal Robes in exchange for Emperor Bonaparte, but without sounding like a dry text book.
I have tremendous respect for Jennifer Donnelly. She has taken on the task of bringing history into context for today's modern young readers, and done it exquisitely. Revolution is filled with emotional layers of content that draw you in to both Andi and Alex's unforgettable stories.