The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Andi Alpers is a gifted teenage musician grieving over the death of her younger brother. But when her apathy and overdoses cause her to almost flunk out of prep school, Andi's distant father—a world renowned geneticist—whisks her off to Paris for a change of pace.

Alexandrine Paradis is an aspiring actress living during the French Revolution. Her constant companion is the young dauphin of France, whom she cares for and loves as if he were her own child. Amidst the turmoil and violence of the revolution, Alexandrine keeps a diary, and one night tucks this diary into her guitar case. There it waits for hundreds of years, until Andi, in a fit of curiosity, opens the book, and a whole world of secrets.

Together they embark upon a journey of self-discovery, history and music. A journey that continually weaves in and out of fact and fiction, until the lines blur into one fantastic cacophony of words. A journey which, I am surprised to say, hooked me from beginning to end.

Often, if young adult books have a character suffering from depression, the illness itself is abused as a plot device; an outlet which allows the character to wallow in angst. Thankfully, Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution bucks the trend, and presents us with a fresh, historical story that doesn't fit into any one genre.

Donnelly's characters are well-defined and flawed. From the eccentric, to the dashing, each one moves the story along in their own particular way. Andi herself is mature, if confused. Sometimes she makes bad decisions, but she manages to pick herself up again, and only occasionally hampers the story with her emotional turmoil. Her father is appropriately preoccupied, and her brother—although he is gone before the story begins—manages to crawl into our hearts. There are one or two characters that seem unnecessary, but they do not hinder the plot.

The plot moves slowly at first, but then morphs into a page-turner. Although predictable at times, (almost) every event seemed logical. And with Donnelly alternating between Andi's lyrical first-person, present-tense voice, and Alexandrine's more formal, third-person, past-tense, the writing itself remains new and exciting. Although it seems that Donnelly had to accustom herself to Alexandrine's voice, she soon becomes an exciting and necessary part of the plot.

The prose in Revolution is wonderful, lyrical and contemporary. There are lots of culture references (i. e. Sharpie instead of permanent marker); lots of contemporary ideas. But the writing itself is so personal, and it flows so well, that I could truly get lost in the story. There were times when I'd read 70 or 100 pages, and wouldn't realize that I'd been sitting and reading at all.

But my favorite part of the whole novel would have to be its musical references. From St. Vincent to The Decemberists, I'm dying to ask the author just how many independent and/or obscure bands she listened to while writing her book. As a musician myself, I love to listen to the small bands that don't get a lot of media coverage (just ask me about my obsession with /Passenger). And I appreciate how Donnelly let her protagonist choose the music that was right for her. There are also many wonderful explanations and mentions of musical theory, and how classical music has influenced rock music today… true music—real music—isn't an element often seen in teen literature.

Though not without it's flaws, Revolution is an exciting foray into history, music and grief. It's a melodic story of love and friendship—of bonds that tie time together. But mostly, it's an intelligent tale of one girl who lived and breathed her musical passion. And for that alone, it's worth the read. In any case, it is by far, one of the best young adult novels I've ever read, and one of my favorite books of the year.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly hits shelves on October 12th. Make sure to mark your calendars and pick up a copy at your local bookstore!

Pre-Order it on Amazon
Author's Website

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