Saturday, October 16, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers is effed up. She is failing her senior year at St. Anselm's. It appears as though she purposely exerts herself pushing people away. Andi constantly thinks of killing herself, even expresses the desire to die. Normally now would be the time for some, "Cheer up, emo bear, high school ends sooner than you'd think," but Andi is actually suffering from some real pain. Two years ago, her brother Truman was hit by a car. He was killed right in front of her. That will mess anyone up.

Now, Andi takes Qwellify. If she doesn't take enough, she can't get out of bed. Too much and she starts to hallucinate. At home, Andi's mom spends her days painting Truman over and over. Her dad has been absent for a long time. Once he gets the letter from St. Anselm's, he takes action. Mom goes away to a mental hospital and Andi accompanies her father to Paris for winter vacation, which is the best punishment ever, meaning I am jealous and want to go to France. While there, she is required to write an outline for her senior thesis, tracing the roots of modern music back to 18th century composer Amade Mahlerbeau. Who is fictional, which I know because I thought I might actually be able to hear his music, but alas I cannot.

While in Paris, Andi finds an old diary written by a girl named Alexandrine Paradis. Alex lived in 18th century France, back when merde got real. Andi reads about how Alex got close to the royal family by serving as a companion for Louis-Charles, the dauphin. After the King is overthrown, Louis-Charles is locked away in a tower and treated poorly. Though she had planned to use the child as a stepping stone for her aspirations as an actress, Alex comes to genuinely care for him. She lights firecrackers to show the child that she is still there, she has not abandoned him. The narrative goes back and forth from Andi to Alex's diary entries. In present day, Andi's father is actually trying to verify if a human heart belonged to the same Louis-Charles from Alex's diary. Andi can't stop herself from hoping that the heart isn't the dauphin's. She wants a happy ending for the young prince, the happy ending her brother didn't get.

Another person giving Andi hope is a charming cab driver named Virgil. They bond over music, often singing each other to sleep. Virgil is actually someone who won't be put off, despite Andi's best efforts. He realizes that something horrible happened to her, but she is just too afraid to tell him about Truman and all the messy parts of her life. The hope scares her, getting close to Virgil scares her.

Oh, also, Andi ends up going back in time. To the French Revolution, where she meets Mahlerbeau and acts the part of Alex.

It's been a while since I've thought about the French Revolution. What can I say, I'm more preoccupied with the Battle of Hastings these days. Seriously, Alex's diary entries provide a great first-hand encounter to all the mess from a character that was actually right in the action. The people overthrow the King, but things aren't automatically fixed. Robespierre comes into power and keeps chopping heads. Bad gets replaced by worse gets replaced by worse still.

But the blade still rises and falls. Still heads roll into baskets. Still an innocent suffers, locked away in a tower. Do you know why, sparrow? No? Then I shall tell you.
Because after all the shattered hopes, after all the blood and death, we woke as if from a nightmare only to find that the ugly still are not beautiful and the dull still do not sparkle. That this one sings better than that one. And he got the position I wanted. And her cow gives more milk. And they have a bigger house. And he married the girl I loved. And no writ, no bill, no law, nor declaration will ever change it.

In the end, it all seems so senseless, both the deaths by the guillotine and Truman's death. There are parallels between Andi and Alex, Truman and Louis-Charles. Sometimes I feel ashamed about reading so many Teen books. Revolution is actually one of those books that could be read by adults as well. It's good to have some options that aren't all about vampires and werewolves, just a leetle time travel.

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