Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Delacorte, 2010
(review copy provided by publisher)

Revolution kept me turning pages and dialing up the audiobook, nonstop, until I finished. It is one of the most intriguing books I read in 2010.

Andi's little brother, Truman, has been killed (the reader does not know how or why) and she believes it is her fault. She wears a key that belonged to him around her neck on a red ribbon. Is it a tender remembrance or is it penance?  Her mother has sunk into deep grief and compulsively paints portraits of the boy on the walls of their home, neglecting everything and everyone else.

When her father, a world famous scientist and absentee father, learns that Andi is about to flunk out of her private high school, he takes her to Paris where he is participating in a scientific examination of DNA of a preserved heart, reputed to be that of the dauphin, Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Coincidently (or maybe not) Andi discovers the diary of a young woman, hidden in an antique guitar case.  Alexandrine Paradis, the author of the diary, was the companion of the same Louis-Charles. Andi is caught up in the events of the French Revolution as she reads the diary and Alexandrine's story merges with Andi's causing Andi (and the reader) to question what is really happening. Is there really a fantastical connection to the events in the past or is her mind reacting to medication and to her brother's death?

In the present, Andi meets a young cab driver and musician named Virgil (one of many allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy which is also quoted at the start of each section.) He shares her passion for music and her interest in him gives her a lift from her depression and an anchor in the present.

Still, her fury with her father, her depression and thoughts of suicide are painful.   As a reader, I wanted to reach into the story and stop her hand as she downs the prescription anti-depressants that are probably exacerbating those thoughts. Donnelly does provide some well timed, comic relief through Andi's best friend in the States, Vijay Gupta, who is seeking input from world leaders for his senior thesis

As gifted musician and guitarist herself, Andi has chosen an 18th century composer, Amadé Malherbeau, for her senior thesis. She is supposed to be researching him while in Paris.  This story is infused with music theory and music history, rap, and classical guitar.  Even though Malherbeau is fictional, Donnelly provides such a solid musical grounding for him that readers will want to believe in his historical existence.

Donnelly truly captures Revolutionary Paris and the Paris of today. The officious library clerk that Andi encounters at the library/archives is the quintessential French bureaucrat.  The French Revolution is not a happy or easy period to recreate. An extensive bibliography of print and online sources appears at the end as a testament to the author's research.

Physically, the design of the book, including the typeface, margins and page trim evoke texts from my own French major literature studies. The book jacket captures the essence of the tale with a photo of Andi in the present and an inverted painted portrait of a girl from an earlier century. The two images are divided yet held together by a red ribbon.

This story was not always easy to read but I rooted for Andi all the way.


Jennifer Morian Frye said...

What a great review. I am off to go find this book now. : ) I am intrigued.

Camille said...

Jennifer, As an old French major, I found the book extremely interesting.

Charlotte said...

I really hope I can find the time for this one soon--it sounds like the sort of book that needs uninterupted reading, which is hard to come by...

Fourth Musketeer said...

Hi, checking out your blog on the comments challenge. I Loved this book, and reviewed it on my own blog, The Fourth Musketeer, when it first came out. I was disappointed it didn't even get a Printz honor book, although the audiobook was honored with an Odyssey Honor.

Camille said...

Charlotte: I recommend the audiobook if you don't have a block of time to commit to it.

Fourth Musketeer: Jumping over to see your review now. I know Tea Cozy has also reviewed it.