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:
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.
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!
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.
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!)