Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

I avoid books about the French Revolution (angry mob stories freak me out), reading about time travel (the laws of causality!), or plots that hinge on the deaths of children (...this one is self-explanatory, right?). All three are featured in Jennifer Donnelly's YA novel Revolution, so the fact that I not only finished her book, but even found it reasonably entertaining, is a testament to the author's gift for rich, layered storytelling.

Donnelly's heroine, high school senior Andi Alpers, is struggling to cope with her younger brother's death. Her parents have separated, she's flunking out of her prestigious private school, and she's taking so many anti-depressants she has begun to hallucinate. When her largely-absentee father discovers that Andi hasn't even started on her senior thesis about a little-known French classical musician, he insists that she accompany him to Paris, where she'll be forced to focus on her paper. But when Andi discovers a diary that belonged to an 18th century French actress, Alexandrine Paradis, she feels an intense, inexplicable connection to the ill-fated girl, and sets out to discover what happened to her.

Donnelly is an ambitious author, and I give her full props for writing a entertaining, complex, and nearly 500-page-long story aimed at teens, with nary a vampire or love triangle in sight. It's always nice (and depressingly rare) to find an YA author who doesn't seem to actively despise her readers' intelligence. That being said, she would have been well advised to trim at least a couple of her many, many melodramatic subplots. Andi's mother is in the midst of a mental breakdown, her father is utterly self-centered, and Andi herself is constantly flirting with the idea of suicide. Adding in Alexandrine's troubles (which are too numerous to list) and the travails of various minor characters (like the racism faced by Andi's love interest, or the suffering of her music teacher, a concentration camp survivor) chips away at the story's emotional impact. I can only care about so many fictional characters' traumas at once, and Revolution exceeds that limit well before the halfway mark.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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