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Jennifer Donnelly – Revolution

October 15, 2010

126. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (2010)

Length: 481 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction (at least in part; the bulk of it is modern)

Started: 11 October 2010
Finished: 12 October 2010

Where did it come from? From the publishers.
Why do I have it? I’ve really enjoyed Jennifer Donnelly’s other books, and the blurb mentioned parallel/intersecting modern and historical storylines, which, as we all know, is one of my favorite story devices.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 08 September 2010

Two revolutions,
both in Paris; one in the
streets, one of the heart.

Summary: Since the tragic death of your younger brother in an accident two years ago, Andi Alpers has not been doing well. She’s failing out of school, estranged from her father, taking care of her mother, and spiraling into a deep depression that drugs are no longer able to ameliorate. The only thing that is able to distract her is her music, and even that doesn’t always take the edge off her grief and pain. At the end of the fall semester, her geneticist father takes her to visit friends in Paris, where he’s been summoned to help solve a mystery that dates from the French Revolution. While she’s there, she stumbles across a diary from that same time period – that of a young girl named Alex, a puppeteer, actress, and one-time companion to the Dauphin of France. Instead of working on her senior thesis, like she’s supposed to, Andi becomes more and more involved with the story the diary has to tell. She’s struck by the similarities between Alex’s life and her own… but although she hopes for a happy ending for Alex that she’s been denied for herself, she has no idea just how closely their stories are intertwined.

Review: Phenomenal. I was initially a little bit disappointed that Donnelly’s newest book was a YA book rather than another of her Roses books – I liked The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose better than her other YA novel, A Northern Light. That disappointment, however, was very short-lived; this book was simply wonderful.

Revolution pulled me in right away and didn’t let me go until the very end – and really, not even then. I picked it up in the evening, thinking that I’d get maybe fifty pages in before calling it a night, and then I proceeded to stay up obscenely late, lost in its pages. (Of course, I was also battling a wicked case of post-trans-Pacific-travel jet lag, so the fact that I was up late probably wasn’t entirely the book’s fault, but the book certainly didn’t help, either.) Even after I finally went to bed and got up again, all I wanted to do was read; enough so that I finished the entire thing in less than 24 hours. And I’m still thinking about it, even days after I’ve finished it.

Because seriously, this book has everything. It’s got history, it’s got a mysterious diary, it’s got music, it’s got the French Revolution, it’s got some truly amazing writing about the way that real people deal with grief and loss and depression and suicide, it’s got the Paris catacombs, it’s got hope and snark in equal measures, it’s got a fair bit of romance and the slightest touch of ghost story, it’s got family drama, it’s got intertwining past and present storylines (love those!). It’s got an ambiguous and unresolved part of the ending that feels authentic, instead of like the author didn’t want to commit to a plot choice. It’s powerful and moving without ever losing the authenticity of a seventeen-year-old’s voice. It’s got interesting and sympathetic characters and not one but two crazily compelling storylines. It’s great.

In fact, there are only two even slightly negative things I can say about it. First is the issue of context: some of the diary entries are too full of expository detail to feel authentic, although since Alex states that she’s writing for posterity, I suppose we can let that slide. Similarly, it’s written in first-person present tense, which was usually innocuous but occasionally made me wonder if Andi was narrating all of the action to herself. Secondly, I’ve got a bone to pick with Donnelly about her portrayal of Andi’s father. Not all of us biologists are such humorless, joyless, imagination-free buzzkills; not even the geneticists.

My father takes the photos from me. He moves them to the far end of the table. “A human heart isn’t made of stories,” he says.

“Every heart is made of stories,” G says.

“A heart is made of proteins built by amino acids, animated by electrical synapses.”

G snorts. “Your pretty, young girlfriend, Minna – you love her with all your heart, or some random combination of amino acids?”

Dad flushes. He blusters. Because his pretty – and pregnant – new girlfriend, is twenty-five years old. “There’s nothing random about amino acids,” he says huffily, “and love – or any emotion – as much as we want to glorify it, is merely a series of chemical markers.”

(p. 71-72. As I have written on my notes-to-self-page: “Yeesh, not all biologists are such assholes.”)

Scientist-bashing aside, though, I loved it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended for those who like modern young adult novels, historical fiction involving the French Revolution, Donnelly’s writing, and really good books.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Jennifer Donnelly’s website

Other Reviews: Book Sake, Consumed by Books, The Fourth Musketeer, Killin’ Time Reading, Scribbles
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, deejay.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 323: “I bungle the passacaille I’m trying to play.” – the music for a slow, dignified dance of spanish origin, based on an ostinato figure.

**All quotes are from an ARC edition and may not reflect the final published text.**

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2010 3:56 am

    Oh, I’m so glad to hear this is so good! I loved A Northern Light (I haven’t read her other books yet, though) and got really excited when I heard she had a new YA book out.

    • October 15, 2010 10:58 am

      Nymeth – This book is pretty different than A Northern Light, or any of her other books, because it’s set primarily in modern times, and the tone and voice of the narrator is therefore quite a bit different. But I think Donnelly does both extremely well!

  2. October 15, 2010 7:52 am

    This sounds amazing! I’ve been looking forward to it just for the French Revolution aspect, but now I’m excited about the whole thing.

    • October 15, 2010 10:59 am

      bermudaonion – I hope you like it! And I hope the French Revolution parts work for you (they did for me, but it’s not a time period about which I’m particularly knowledgeable.)

  3. October 15, 2010 8:06 am

    *laughs* My father’s a social worker, and they get the world’s worst ever press. They’re always incompetent child-stealing uncaring jackasses. In my house we automatically rather love anything that features a nice, competent, intelligent social worker. :p

    I only heard about this the other day, and I haven’t read anything else by Donnelly, but I really want to read this! I love the parallel storylines thing too.

    • October 15, 2010 11:01 am

      Jenny – You’re right, I can’t think of a single example of a social worker that’s supposed to be a good character – maybe the one in My Sister’s Keeper, although that’s a legal advocate, not a social worker per se – but I probably also haven’t been looking as closely as you have.

  4. October 15, 2010 9:21 am

    I read this too and could not get over how different it was from Donnelly’s other book! But still good!

    • October 15, 2010 11:02 am

      rhapsody – Agreed! Based on her other books, I was expecting this to be a lot more historical fiction-y than it was, but what a nice surprise to find out that Donnelly is just as good at modern fiction.

  5. October 15, 2010 12:07 pm

    I absolutely loved A Northern Light but haven’t read any of her other books, and I want to. The use of present tense drives me crazy, but if it’s a really good book then I can usually get past it.

    • October 15, 2010 1:27 pm

      Alyce – I don’t really like present tense either, but I can see why she chose it here… i.e. if the book is narrated in the first person and your narrator is suicidally depressed, then by using past tense you’re implying from the beginning that your narrator didn’t kill herself and is better enough to be narrating the book from some point in the future; using present tense leaves those possibilities up in the air.

      Really, though, I didn’t notice the present tense most of the time, it was only occasionally that it broke through my absolute absorption in the story.

  6. October 15, 2010 2:15 pm

    Ooh, this one has just hit the bottom of my immediate TBR pile! Now I’m seriously excited about getting to it, so I hope I manage that soon.

  7. October 16, 2010 6:32 pm

    Ooh, this sounds wonderful! I love mysterious diaries and music and the French Revolution and deep issues. And I shall take the humorlous biologist stuff with a large grain of salt. :)

    • October 21, 2010 8:42 am

      Memory – I’m not even worried that people are going to read this and be like “bad biologist” rather than “bad dad”… it’s just that it got under my skin because he says some stuff that’s so close to what I believe, but he twists it into its cold, joyless extreme. Blech.

  8. January 15, 2011 8:31 pm

    Hi Fyrefly. I read Revolution and do agree –it certainly has so many elements rolled into one novel that draws the reader in. I read The Winter Rose, enjoyed that, and somehow had the feeling that Donnelly was going to take a different approach with this piece. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Even as the book opened up, I realized “this is going to be more gritty.”

    I usually don’t read until later in the evening, and by then, I sometimes find myself dozing off. At first, I decided that I would probably give it a chapter or two a night. Well, I actually wound up devouring this book a lot sooner than I’d expected. Also, the use of present tense took some getting used to, but when I became comfortable with it, it seemed to inject the storyline with action, immediacy. It gives a sense of urgency to the narrative in progress.


  1. Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly « Jenny's Books

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