Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Though I have been hearing folks rave about Jennifer Donnelly the past six months or more, this is not the first time that I have heard of her.  I came close to reading her young adult novel  A Northern Light, based on the real life tragedy of  Grace Brown and Chester Gillette. I would still like to read that at some point.  As I said earlier this month I am glad that reading this for my IRL book club has “forced” me to finally have to pick this up.  It’s also a bonus that the novel focuses heavily on the French Revolution, which I am exploring in my reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Revolution tells the story of teenagers Andi Alpert and Alexandrine Paradis.  The two girls don’t know each other officially, in fact they are separated by 200 years and an ocean, as they grow up on different continents.  Andi lives in present day Brooklyn and Alex in revolutionary France.  Andi’s life has been deteriorating after the death of a loved one sends her family sinking into the type of dysfunction that is beyond repair.  Her father immerses himself in work, and her mother begins a slow descent into madness, while Andi punishingly works out her guilt and grief through her music, drugs and lapses into half-hearted suicide attempts and promiscuity.  In a last ditch effort to keep her on track for high school graduation and college, her father takes her with him on a business trip to Paris, France.  There Andi finds Alex’s diary and upon reading it becomes dangerously immersed in her revolutionary life she finds they are similar in their despair and in tragedy.

There was a lot that I loved and will look forward to again with Jennifer Donnelly’s writing.  I loved the way that she got the voices of the teenagers and the realism of the dialogue.  She vividly created that world for me with the angst, the smart mouths and the rapt attention to pop culture.  I also liked the way Donnelly took a chance and made Andi completely cranky and obnoxious. I don’t know that I ever really liked her, but I deeply understood her.  She is a brat, she’s hurting, and she is not nice so that she can push people away.  Andi has experienced a great deal, so you buy into this being who she is and how she copes, though you want her to make different choices or you want to smack her.  Usually both. Donnelly does a wonderful job of weaving the history of the revolution into Alex’s diaries in such a way that you don’t even mind that you have gotten a history lesson, and her use of music to bring the novel to life was extremely well played.  I often read for longer than I intended, and wondered how Andi could put down Alex’s diary.

I was fully immersed in Andi and Alex’s lives and I wanted the answers to questions posed in both stories equally.  Though I had a feeling it was going the direction that it inevitably took, I was a little disappointed with the ending.  It’s not abrupt or inappropriate in any way and it is as well-written as the rest of the book, but it felt a little flat and somehow disappointing for me.  I think maybe I just didn’t want it to go where it did, and it took a bit away from the story.  All in all though, I loved and was captivated through almost all of this novel.  Donnelly touches on a plethora of themes such as mental instability, drug use and abuse, death, and the collapse of a family, to name a few, and she does it in a completely organic way.   I look forward to experiencing more of Donnelly’s richly detailed writing and characters in her other novels.

Leave a Comment