High school senior Andi Alpers is full of anger and sadness. The tragic death of her younger brother has wrecked her family, sending her father away, her mother into a paralyzing depression, and Andi into a state of rage and hurt so deep it feels like suicide might be the only way to relieve the pain. She tries to manage the overwhelming hurt and sense of responsibility over Truman's passing with prescription drugs, but the only thing that really helps is music. When it looks like Andi may not graduate from her exclusive prep school without producing a stunning senior thesis, her father makes a drastic decision. Andi's story is told with a wonderful tension in the page-turning drama REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly.
Andi's father, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, whisks Andi away to Paris with him when he goes to work on an exciting genetics project. In the meantime, Andi's mother, a talented and sensitive painter, is committed to a psychiatric ward for care. Andi is reluctant to go anywhere with her father, much less France, where her mother is from. She knows the trip is going to be anxious and frustrating for many reasons. But soon after her arrival, she finds a portrait and document dating back to the French Revolution hidden in an old guitar case. The document is actually the diary of a young woman, Alexandrine Paradis, writing in the 1790s. And the portrait turns out to be that of the young prince, Louis-Charles. Louis-Charles looks remarkably like Truman, and that, combined with this compelling discovery and the power of Alexandrine's words, pulls Andi into French history, as experienced by one amazing woman, and forces her to confront her own family problems.
Like Andi, Alexandrine is dealing with the loss of someone she loves and the fracturing of her family. The two girls are passionate and smart --- Andi is a musical prodigy and Alexandrine a brilliant actress. Both must find ways to survive in tough emotional (and, in Alexandrine's case, physical) circumstances. They are also helped by equally passionate and talented young men. As Donnelly moves back and forth between the two stories, readers realize that the women are connected by more than just similar feelings: they are deeply impacted by a genius French composer named Amadé Malherbeau, who is the subject of Andi's thesis and the binding thread running through her love and appreciation for music. For Alexandrine, he was the person who saved her life, at least until he could no longer protect her from the forces that wanted to see her dead.
From the posh elite Brooklyn prep school to the catacombs of Paris, Andi moves toward resolution, self-forgiveness and happiness, all of which is a personal revolution contrasted with the historic Revolution that is the setting of Alexandrine's tale.
Andi's anger may be a barrier to her likability at first, but in Donnelly's deft hands, she soon becomes sympathetic as the pain she feels rises to the surface, her love of music begins to heal her, and the story of Truman's death is explained. In a nod to Dante's classic THE DIVINE COMEDY, the handsome musician Virgil --- who she meets and who guides her through Paris --- is a person she comes to rely on as she works through the trauma and the loss she experienced. Despite her different culture and context, Alexandrine is understandable from the start, and it is easy to see why her diary would ignite something in Andi. Alexandrine's story may be a tad more successful than Andi's, but both interwoven tales pack a powerful punch.
REVOLUTION is a highly literary, emotional novel with elements of historical fiction, thriller and romance. There are mysteries to be solved, fates to be decided, and art being created, all while Andi finds a sense of normalcy and peace in her life. Andi and Alexandrine are both fascinating heroines who are sure to resonate with readers, making Donnelly's latest another resounding success.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 12, 2010