Thursday, 21 October 2010

Book Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a review copy of Revolution

Summary (from Goodreads)

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

My thoughts and review

When I first heard about this book I was very interested in the fact that it was combining the lives of two girls from different time periods. Before Revolution I had never read a book mixing historical and contemporary combination before but now I know that the two together works fantastically well. I hope that it will get more teenagers and people who usually stay away from historical fiction to get a taster of it.

Revolution is the kind of  book that grabs you right from the start and has you racing through the pages unable to stop. Donelly managed to combine contemporary Brooklyn and the depression of Andi with the brutality, fear and pain that Alex witnessed and felt two centuries back during the French Revolution  with perfect skill and sensitivity that made the stories so powerful and real.

To start off with, I wasn't sure how I felt about the book, it wasn't as I had expected and was quite slow for a while. I felt that the place where the book really got going was when Andi arrived in Paris on a trip with her Dad and the historical part of the novel appears. However, maybe that's because it was the historical part I was most looking forward too and reflecting now, I can see why a lot of background was needed about Andi for me to understand more and care about her.

Andi is not a character that I warmed to but I couldn't help wanting her to hang onto life and to find out what really happened the day her brother Truman died. She is the opening narrative of the book and at first I was swamped in the sadness and bitterness that she felt because I wasn't expecting it.
However as I read on, I was absorbed in the tragic tale of how she came to be in her depressed state.
She is an intelligent private school girl with promising opportunities and future career but since the death of her brother Truman she doesn't care about anything apart from her beloved music because of the overwhelming grief and guilt she bears. meanwhile her mother is going through a mental breakdown and Nobel-prize winning scientist father has created a whole new life with his girlfriend.
She is the kind of character that feels so much and her emotions are poured into the narrative and I think that one of the reasons why she struggles so much with depression is that she is a person who has extreme emotions. Her passion for music demonstrates this and I loved how music was woven through the story and I found out more about her character through it.

The historical part of the book is told through the diary entries of Alex (Alexandrine), a young girl living during the Revolution who dreams of acting on the stage but finds herself serving young Louis Charles, the son of the King and Queen. Alex is a character that quickly found a place in my heart and I was just as engrossed in her diary and anxious to find out her fate as Andi. Everything about her and what she wrote was very realistic and it shows that people in the past were essentially the same as us, particularly in the way they felt.

Combining the historical diary in with Andi's narrative worked really well and fitted in naturally with the story as both the girl's stories ran parallel to each other with distinct similarities. The Revolution really came alive in the pages of the book with Alex's descriptions and emotions right in the centre of what was happening to the King and his family. felt the hunger of the starving citizens, Alex's worry for her small charge the Prince, smelt the rotting flesh of the fallen heard the thundering footsteps and uproar of the angry mobs and the fear laden silence deep in the catacombs.
I also loved the fact that I could go into it without knowing much about the French Revolution and feel completely comfortable with what was happening as it was all explained so cleverly without it reading like a textbook.

I can't even begin to describe how this book makes you feel, it is so complicated, brutal and heartbreaking but at the same time filled with hope and strength. Every kind of emotion is woven together beautifully: love, tragedy, hope, fear, pain, joy, hate, sorrow and passion. It is incredible how these simple emotions of life can bind two characters who have never met together and be relevant to us today too. Thinking about it, the title of 'Revolution' refers not only to the time when Alex lived but the inner struggle of two girls going through a journey and discovering themselves.

This is the first Donelly book that I have read and I love her writing because it has so much depth and richness. The character development in 500 pages was amazing, I felt like I knew Andi and Alex inside out by the time I had finished the book and wanted to read more about them. Everything was researched impeccably well to create a realistic historical detail and authenticity to the characters and plot.

Summary of thoughts/ Verdict: Revolution weaves together the emotional struggles of two young girls in remarkably different time periods effortlessly to create an breathtaking and captivating novel that kept me firm in its spell. There is something to appeal to everyone here- a must read!

My favourite quotes from the book

Andi- "I don’t like hope very much. In fact, I hate it. Its’ the crystal meth of emotions. It hooks you fast and kills you hard. It’s bad news. The worst. It’s sharp sticks and cherry bombs. When hope shows up, it’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt.”

Alex-  "I am not afraid of beatings or blood anymore. I’m not afraid of guards of guillotines. There is only one thing I fear now: love. For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.”

Andi- "You can’t change history. You can’t change the world. All you can ever change is yourself.”

Alex - "I had sliced my hands to ribbons and felt nothing. No pain, only fear – for him. I think it was then that the revolution began. Not for Paris or for the French. But for me.”

Video with Jennifer Donelly


  1. this was one of my top YA picks of the year--I thought it was fabulous! I reviewed it on my blog, The Fourth Musketeer, as well. It doesn't hurt that I am really fascinated by the French Revolution and have read lots of books about Marie Antoinette, etc...Jennifer's book was very well researched and accurate as well as dramatic. I hope it will be a big hit and attract some teens who don't normally pick up historical fiction.

    the American cover is quite different--which do you like better? I personally like the British cover....

  2. Anonymous22:01:00

    This is a great review. I just ordered it from my library. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. It is one my my favourites of the year too and I loved how you expressed the book in your review Margo. I want to read more about the French Revolution now, satrting with The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyer. I too hope that teens who don't normally read historical fiction will enjoy it.
    I prefer the UK one, it's more striking. I did a an earlier post on comparing the two covers too.

    Thanks Megan, I hope that you enjoy it!

  4. I'm always a little leery of books that have 2 narratives set in different time periods going at the same time, but it sounds from your review like these parallel each other quite well. Did you find yourself preferring one girl's story over the other, or were you equally engrossed in both?

  5. That was an interesting review. I was waiting for it from you. That connection between the two girls looks really unique. I think i might try it at the end.

  6. I loved this one too - it's something a bit special. Definitely a must read! :)

  7. Great review. I've been debating whether to read this one and you make it sound very appealing.

  8. Excellent review! Like I said, I've ordered this one, should arrive next week! Yay!
    Have you got the english cover then?
    Thank you so, so much for the support you are giving me stephanie, and, for recommending that blog hop! I love it! It's so great meeting new people, and hearing what they think!

    I can't wait until you get started on your hop again, I'll definitely stop by!
    Of course I'll listen to your recommendations, too and snag myself some great Historical books!

    Yes, you should read the keepers daughter, it is very good and has a pretty cover!

    -Liddy :D


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