Wednesday, November 24, 2010

YA BOOK REVIEW: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Despite seeing wonderful reviews, I almost did not buy this book. When I read the blurb, it seemed more contemporary than historical. The premise, in a nutshell, involves a modern-day teen who finds a diary and then travels back in time. Normally, I like to stick to one time period at a time. It isn’t an absolute rule- that would be silly- but in general, books that involve long-lost diaries or time-slip portals don’t appeal to me very much. Maybe because the fiction in the work announces itself too strongly, whereas in more straightforward historicals I can more easily lose myself in the fictional world.

None of this matters, though, because I did decide to read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. And if I’d allowed myself to be dissuaded by preconceived notions of how I might react, I would have missed out on an incredible book.

Andi Alpers is a senior at an elite Brooklyn Heights private school where she had excelled as a student until two years prior when tragedy claimed the life of her younger brother. Andi blames herself for his death. Her mother is incapable of dealing with the loss and can offer no support. Her father, a Nobel-prize winning geneticist, had almost abandoned the family for his work even before his son’s death. In the aftermath of the accident, he made the break more complete. Andi is depressed to the point of suicidal. Pills, one good friend, and her music, are all that keep her alive, barely alive. She can’t find it in herself to care about school anymore and she is about to be expelled. When her father learns of this, he returns to whisk her off to Paris for winter break. There she is to get her senior thesis back on track while he works on a research project.

In Paris, Andi discovers the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a seventeen-year-old girl who lived during the French Revolution. Alexandrine dreams of becoming an actress, but her day-to-day life takes her instead to the court of the royal family. There she is assigned the role of entertaining the young prince. Although self-serving at first, she gradually becomes devoted to the boy and makes his fate her own.

Andi becomes more and more involved in the story of Alexandrine and the prince, a story that is entwined with her own on multiple levels. As she delves deeper into the tragic past, a past she is helpless to change, Andi has to find a way to emerge from the world of the dead.

What made this book stand out was the powerful voice of its protagonist. Andi is in severe emotional pain. She lashes out. But she is, at the same time, a girl of great wit, intelligence, and kindness. I never found myself getting annoyed with Andi even when she was at her most self-destructive. She was a thoroughly believable character which made the time travel episode easier to accept. By then, I was willing for Andi to go where she had to go to find whatever she needed to find. The book deals with difficult issues. Moreover, it walks the reader through details about music, the French Revolution, and even brushes with genetics without ever bogging down. The relationships are moving, the dialogue entertaining. I can’t praise this book enough!


  1. I agree about Andi-I thought she veered a bit toward annoying sometimes but overall she was smart and nice and I wanted her to get the healing she needed.

  2. I'm reading this right now!! I just started it the other night, and I am loving it so far!! Great review!!!

    Girls with Books

  3. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! I found Andi hard to like at first but I agree with everything you said about it. Lovely review :)