≡ Menu

Thoughts on “Revolution” by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly’s new young adult novel, got so much attention in the months leading up to its release that I’d reserved a copy at the library before the library even had copies. My turn came around last week, and I read Revolution right away.

About the Book:

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (cover)Andi is struggling to keep her life together. She hasn’t started her high school senior thesis; she often doesn’t bother going to class. Andi’s home life is in pieces as well. Her little brother has died; her mother hasn’t recovered from it. Her father, a leading geneticist and Nobel Prize winner, has left them and now lives in Boston with his new girlfriend. The only thing holding Andi together is her music, and sometimes she’s not sure music will be enough.

When Andi’s father decides she will spend winter break in Paris with him so that he can supervise her thesis work, Andi isn’t happy–she’d rather be near her mother in New York. In the home of her father’s French friends, which doubles as a warehouse for the many French Revolution artifacts they’ve collected, Andi stumbles upon a diary written by a girl named Alex during the Revolution. As Andi struggles through her days in Paris, she becomes ever more involved in Alex’s story.

My Thoughts:

I really liked almost everything about Revolution. Andi started out kind of grating and not very sympathetic, but once she got to Paris and her story began to come out, her gloomy temperament didn’t bother me as much. I found myself rooting for her, hoping she could figure herself out. Most of the characters who inhabit Andi’s world are distinct: Andi’s best friend Vijay (who provides little bursts of comic relief), her father, Virgil, G and Lili. The story unfolds in a believable way, for the most part.

I liked how Alex’s diary entries fit into Andi’s life. Andi carries the diary with her and reads entries here and there, waiting in line for a tour or for material to be ready at the library. When Andi is jolted out of her reading, I felt jolted as well–I know that feeling of being so wrapped up in a book that you’re oblivious to what’s happening around you! Alex’s story is interesting and absorbing. She’s a strong character, and her perspective on the Revolution is unique. Her diary isn’t always believably diary-like, but it’s as much an account of the Revolution as it is a personal diary, so this didn’t bother me much.

Music plays a large part in Revolution. Andi is a talented guitar player, and music is the way she understands the world and connects with other people. Her music teacher is the only person with whom Andi really connects, and her lessons with him are her refuge. Her senior thesis focuses on an important and influential French composer who lived during the Revolution, so her research is sprinkled throughout the story. The novel is rife with references to musicians and songs. I didn’t get most of them, which didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book, but I think if I had gotten more of them, they would have added another interesting layer to the story.

Donnelly does a wonderful job of evoking Paris as well–not the Paris of cute cafes and boutiques that we often see, but the Paris that’s rich with history. We see a library, a sunrise over the city, a private home, a vast flea market, a dive bar. In addition, of course, to the tourist traps: the Eiffel Tower, the catacombs. I liked that the emphasis wasn’t on contemporary Paris, yet it came through clearly.

I had two beefs with the book: one major, and one extremely minor. The latter, which isn’t a spoiler, is the name of Andi’s medication: Quellify. Really? I think it’s so the author could write that feelings or thoughts had been “Quelled,” but I rolled my eyes every time I read it…which was pretty often.

The major beef is a spoiler. Skip it if you don’t want to know!

SPOILER ALERT!

Skip this paragraph if you’ve not read Revolution and plan to! I absolutely hated the part where Andi got sent back to the days of the Revolution. I hated it for several reasons. First, it was way too long. I could have believed it if it lasted just a day or two, but she’s there for much longer. Too long for me to believe it was a dream, certainly, but I’m also unwilling to believe she actually traveled back in time. Second, I don’t like how ambiguous it was as to whether or not she’d actually gone back in time. I felt like Donnelly was trying to cover her bases: if you want to believe Andi really did visit historic France, you can; if, on the other hand, that’s too unbelievable for you, you can brush it off as a (really) long dream or hallucination. And third, I don’t like the implication that only by traveling back in time–which, for us actual people, isn’t currently possible–could Andi deal with her issues and be okay with herself again. That doesn’t strike me as being positive or realistic. I liked that she found her answers in Alex’s story, but I wish she’d absorbed them in a different, more plausible way. I was so annoyed when Andi ended up in the past that I almost stopped reading altogether. The thread that had been pulling me through the story was snapped, and I actually put the book down to read something else for a bit.

For the most part, I was really happy with Revolution. I loved how it unfolded; I loved the two main characters and how their stories intertwined. I haven’t seen any other reviews that had the same major issue I had, so maybe it’s just me! I would definitely recommend Revolution for older teens and for anyone who enjoys novels that blend historical fiction with a contemporary storyline.

Your Turn!

If you’ve read Revolution, what did you think? Have you ever read a book that you left except for one glaring issue? (Please avoid or warn about spoilers in your comments!)

Worth sharing?
Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on Google+Buffer this page

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com The Literary Omnivore

    Oh, that spoiler sounds infuriating–ambiguity is all well and good unless it deals with the climax of a character arc. Yeesh.

    • Erin

      Yep. I’ve never encountered a book that jolted me out of its narrative and left me as annoyed as this one did. Too bad, because I really liked most of what happened before and after that one crucial part.

  • http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com Amanda

    I got this one at BEA and I really tried to get into it, but just couldn’t. Ah well.

    • Erin

      I got into it once Andi got to Paris; I agree that it didn’t start amazingly. I enjoyed it and am glad I read it, but I don’t really feel like you have to read it to make your life complete :-)

  • http://www.readinasinglesitting.com Stephanie

    I think the issue dealt with in the spoiler would kill it for me, particularly since it can’t just be brushed off as a sort of emotional ride or something. A shame, because this sounds quite good, otherwise–I love books that deal with the arts. :)

    • Erin

      Definitely! If you like the arts, you might enjoy the book anyway; I’d just say maybe don’t expect it to live up to the hype it’s been getting. Though it’s pushing 500 pages, so it’d be a pretty long sitting if you were to read it in a single one!

  • http://loveyalit.com Em (Love YA Lit)

    With your major spoiler beef (which definitely sounds like something you should not eat), I was also thrown a little by the change in the narrative. It took me a while to get into that section, but in the end I thought it was interesting and added to the story in a way that was positive. With your minor beef, agreed, Quellify is a weird fake medication name. But most medication names are bizarre so I just thought of it as commenting on pharmaceutical marketing.

    • Erin

      Eww, major spoiler beef…definitely not something to eat! I did think it was interesting, and ultimately I think Andi’s reaction was positive, but I think my own disbelief around how it was executed and treated made it not work for me. I think it could’ve worked, the way it was done just didn’t.

      I don’t know why Quellify bugged me so much. It sounded to me like something George W. Bush would’ve said: “We’re going to quellify the people responsible for such-and-such!” Or something.

  • http://www.thingsmeanalot.com/ Nymeth

    I had to skip the spoiler, but I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this for the most part. I loved Donnelly’s A Northern Light and I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

    • Erin

      Overall it was really enjoyable. I hope you like it!

  • http://jennysbooks.wordpress.com Jenny

    Oh, Lord, the name of her medication bugged the hell out of me too. I was griping about the author’s portrayal of mental illness in my review, but I completely forgot to mention the meds. YES. What you said.

    • Erin

      I’m glad you agree! I understand that it was probably supposed to be a parody, but if it was, it was an annoying and silly one.

  • Ralph

    I’m with Em — the scene you hated was for me an extremely powerful and intriguing part of the book. It can certainly be explained away as a hallucination (time in a dream isn’t limited to the time you’re asleep), particularly as she has so many similar (albeit much smaller) hallucinations leading up to it.

    But more important, it underscores the central theme of the book in a very vivid way: Andi and Alex aren’t two characters with a lot of similarities, they’re the same character in a story that is always occurring (“the world goes on, stupid and brutal …”). So I’m pretty sure that Donnelly was making the point — aggressively, I agree — that who is in what time period doesn’t matter in this story. Andi is Alex (did you notice that their full names are an anagram?) — always has been and always will be.

    So while there is plenty of (intended) temporal ambiguity in the book, the climax itself isn’t the slightest bit ambiguous. Andi/Alex both have the same epiphany — as they always have and always will — and it’s crystal clear what it is.

    I personally think this is an extremely hopeful message to take away from this sometimes very sad book. Donnelly is quoted somewhere as saying that it’s her (perhaps naive) hope that the epiphany of Andi/Alex will occur to everyone. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

    PS – Totally off-topic, but I just re-read the book, and I continue to be floored by the layers upon layers of nuances Donnelly has packed into it. Example: the key Truman found in NYC was from a theater called “The Paradise,” which was built in 1808 — right around the time Alex (Paradis) would have arrived had she managed to escape from Paris to realize her dream. More ambiguity, but such great — and hopeful — food for thought!!

    • Erin

      You raise some really interesting points. I noticed many of the similarities between Andi’s and Alex’s stories, though not that their names are anagrams. The only temporal ambiguity that really bugged me was the long sequence at the end, and whether it was intended to be ambiguous or not, the climax felt that way to me. I did love the epiphany the girls shared, and I agree with Donnelly that it would be amazing if everyone if everyone could experience that epiphany! I thought it was beautiful and empowering and true. I just didn’t believe the way it was reached, which is my own personal opinion/preference/predisposition. It may be, too, that Donnelly intended Alex and Andi to be, in a sense, the same person in the same story, but that rubs me the wrong way. I prefer to think of each person as unique yet able to learn from one another. Thanks for sharing — you’ve given me plenty to consider!

  • http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com Charlie

    I’m trying to think of a medication that sounds the same kind of thing and can’t. Certainly a strange name. Like Ana I didn’t read the spoiler part because I’m wanting to read the book, but I’ll come back to this review once I’m done. I’m interested in what you’ve said about it!

    Glad to hear you liked it for the most part though, puts it higher in my list.

    • Erin

      Yep, overall I really liked it. I liked everything before and after the spoiler; kind of cool that the book managed to resolve in a way I liked after the issue I had! Though it seems I’m one of the only ones who felt that way. I might just be fussy.

      Once you read it, please do come back and share your take on the spoiler! And of course, I will look forward to your own review.

  • http://coffeeandabookchick.blogspot.com Coffee and a Book Chick

    I’ve had this book since I picked it up from the SIBA Trade Show in Daytona and haven’t read it yet. I really need to get on it!

    • Erin

      Quite enjoyable, for the most part. And quick, even though it looks thick. Enjoy!

  • http://litandlife.blogspot.com Lisa

    I’m definitely going to have to give this one a read.

    • Erin

      Definitely worth it! Enjoy!