"Revolution" by Jennifer Donnelly: My Review
As I said, I read Revolution for a book club selection. Our meeting is tonight, and I am still trying to figure out how to describe this one in a couple of sentences. This is the first time in a while that I am thinking back to my YA lit class in library school, where we were trained to give a two-three sentence summary of a book that would hold a teen's interest. It isn't easy.
But I digress.
If I wasn't speaking to a teen, and if I only had one sentence to describe this book, I would say: This book was really busy. So much was happening. When I began to read it, I fell in love with the ideas swirling around in the plot. The protagonist, Andi, was tortured and dark in a believable way--not the predictable, angst-driven way. She is going through a really hard time following the death of her brother. When he died, her mother fell further from reality and her father flew further from the home (he wasn't there much to begin with). Andi, taking anti-depressants, becomes suicidal and finds refuge in her music.
Basically, Andi is a musical genius. She goes to a ritzy private school in New York City and has always been a good student--until now. Now she is skipping school and popping anti-depressants like they are candy, all the while attempting to care for her mother who is slipping into a deluded world.
One evening, Andi attends a party, attempts suicide, and arrives home to find her father has committed her mother to a mental hospital. He also discovers that Andi is failing her senior year and scoops her up (much to Andi's dislike) and takes her to Paris for the Christmas holidays so that she will be forced to work on her senior thesis project.
Andi's father is not a likable character.There is no resolution to their relationship, and, actually, I am okay with that considering how much else was going on in the book. To fix their problems, even in 500 pages, with every thing else going on would have been unbelievable.
In any case, Andi and her father are staying with some old friends of the family (Andi's mother was French and Andi spent a lot of her childhood there). Andi's father is a genome specialist who just won the Nobel. He is there to test a heart found in a small box. The box belongs to G, the family friend they are staying with, and he believes the heart belonged to Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. G. has asked Andi's father to test the heart (along with strands of Marie Antoinette's hair) to determine if the heart indeed belonged to the little prince.
Meanwhile, Andi, desperate to get out of Paris and back to her mother (very co-dependent relationship that is never addressed), makes a deal with her father that she will finish an outline and introduction to her thesis within a few days. If it is good, he will allow her to go back to New York.
So, from here, to make a long story short: As Andi is researching her thesis, she finds an old diary written by a girl (Alex) who was a caregiver for Louis (the prince) and becomes obsessed with it.
(Hardback Cover. Source: http://rhapsodyinbooks.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/n349924.jpg)
Of course, the similarities between Andi's story and Alex's diary revolve around the death of a child who is a young boy. The premise is good and the story had a lot of potential to be a powerful narrative of finding peace and closure after the unimaginable pain that accompanies the death of a child/sibling.
There is also a lot of good mystery and history (though the book is firmly on the side of the monarchists, something that, I think, makes it interesting).
The last 100-150 pages were not so great. I mean, I kept expecting Andi to really make some kind of transformation. Instead, I got this strange time-travel thing and a quick "Epilogue" where the author just told me, "Everything is great, now!"
Revolution had so much potential! I mean, I was really into it for a long time. The writing is fantastic, I learned a lot, the pacing is good, and the characters are portrayed very well. I liked reading about them. But I felt shortchanged at the end. It is like someone got the manuscript (which in my mind had to be close to 800+ pages for it to work), chopped it off around page 400, made the author add in some kind of paranormal moment so that it would sell in the teen market, and then decided that was going on for too long and just chopped it off with a cheesy Brady Bunch ending. I was angry when I finished it. I wanted so much more.
Clearly, this author is capable of emotionally significant moments. I mean, I CRIED when I read parts of this book (at the beginning). I NEVER CRY. Seriously. It takes a lot. If someone can make me cry when I read a book...well, they have done something. So, yes: Donnelly has an amazing talent. But I felt like someone else wrote the last fifth of the book. It was so strange, and I am really bitter that I didn't get anything significant. The set-up, from the beginning, was that Andi was seeking closure. She has closure in the "Epilogue," but there is never a moment where I witnessed her transformation.
I am not trying to bash the book, but I am confused. I am glad I read it, in some ways, but investing that kind of time into a book of significant length...well, I just wanted more.
That being said, what do I know? I mean, Donnelly is an award-winning novelist. Everyone raves about A Northern Light. (I haven't read that one.) As of today, there are 77 five-star reviews on Amazon, and I think it is great that so many people loved it...but there are people who feel as I do. I clicked on the "2-star reviews" and saw this title for a review pop up first thing: "Started out as four stars..." Yes. Exactly. Oh, well.