Troubled Brooklyn teen Andi has to spend winter break in Paris with her estranged father. Andi’s dealing with a lot: her younger brother is dead, and she blames herself. She finds solace only in her music, but at times, even that isn’t enough to help her deal with her pain.
Over two centuries ago, Paris teen Alexandrine wants to become an actress and ends up becoming a companion to Marie Antoinette’s young son, Louis-Charles. The French Revolution breaks out and Louis-Charles is locked in a tower and starved, leaving Alexandrine feeling helpless about her inability to save him. Alexandrine keeps a diary, which Andi finds. The parallels between both girls are obvious, and Andi finds comfort in reading Alexandrine’s diary.
Andi is a very dark character, and kudos to Donnelly for not shying away from such a potentially controversial protagonist in a YA book. Andi takes recreational drugs, couldn’t care less about her classes (with the notable exception of music) and getting expelled from school, and contemplates committing suicide through most of the book. She is also on psychiatric medication, which causes her to hallucinate about her brother’s death, and sometimes turns to physical pain to escape from her emotions. I expected to get tired of Andi pretty quickly. She often thinks she’s being witty and rebellious, when really she’s just being emo. I generally have very little patience with self-indulgent characters, often wishing they would just get over themselves and do something constructive. That wasn’t my reaction to Andi, however, and I think while it’s mostly because what Andi has been through is so horrible, I don’t even want to imagine how messed up I’d be in her shoes.
Andi’s relationship to Alexandrine is interesting. Andi finds comfort in the hope that Alexandrine’s story with Louis-Charles has a happy ending, despite history stating that Louis-Charles died in the tower. The emotions in Revolution are very raw, and are, I believe, the major strength of the book. I found Andi’s story interesting, with memorable scenes featuring her family, a love interest, and a comically uptight reference librarian. The parallel storyline however isn’t quite as strong. Alexandrine’s story develops into a somewhat watered down version of V for Vendetta. While Alexandrine’s inner struggle – her desire to help Louis-Charles battling with her helplessness against the socio-political forces that work towards his death – remains interesting, her adventures don’t quite have the same level of realism and attention to detail that Andi’s experiences do.
Near the end of the book, the past and the present collide for Andi. Whether it is a hallucination or real is something that Donnelly doesn’t fully resolve, though she does strongly hint that it’s real, and this ambiguity hurts the story, in my opinion. With Revolution’s major strength being the rawness and realness of Andi’s emotions, the need to suspend disbelief to such an extent as the pseudo-mystical events near the end demand I do distances me from the emotions and turns the story into an adventure tale. Granted, Donnelly sets us up for these scenes by establishing Andi’s hallucinations early on. Also granted, this section turns out to be very important for plot development, and helps Andi resolve her emotional issues. I just found it mostly convenient, tying up way too many loose ends, including the mystery behind the musician Andi’s researching for her thesis, and I just wish Donnelly had chosen to complete Andi’s story wholly within the present-day reality. Overall, Revolution is a pretty good book. I can’t call it completely enjoyable, because it deals with such heart-breaking subject matter, but it’s definitely a compelling read.