496 pp. Delacorte Press, 2010, $18.99
Jennifer Donnelly, author of the 2006 NCPR North Country Reads selection A Northern Light, returns with her most recent effort, Revolution. Set in modern day Brooklyn and Paris and revolutionary Paris, this novel spans the two hundred year difference in time and place through the examination of guilt, grief and loss.
The novel focuses on the life of high school senior, Andi Alpers, after the death of her younger brother, Truman. The reader meets Andi two years after the accident. Unable to cope with the sudden and tragic loss, Andi and her family fracture into their own worlds. Andi, an extremely talented musician, seeks solace in her music. When it's clear to her estranged father that her mother's sorrow has moved beyond what he or Andi can help, he checks her mother into a psychiatric hospital and takes Andi with him to Paris.
Andi's father is a Nobel winning scientist who is travelling to Paris to do genetic testing on a heart that is said to belong to Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. While staying with him at her father's friend's house, Andi discovers a hidden diary belonging to a young woman named Alexandrine Paradis. Paradis, coincidentally, was a companion to Louis-Charles after the death of his older brother. Her diary details her experience of the Revolution. Alex also greatly discusses the final years of the young prince's life and her constant torment over her role in his death.
Once in Paris Andi's focus is on returning home to Brooklyn and getting her mother out of the hospital. Her father sets two ground rules for her to finish before he will allow her to return to Brooklyn: Andi must complete an outline for her senior thesis and commit to a plan that ensures her graduation. In between moments of research for her project, Andi reads through Alex's diary. Because of her own loss and the amazing similarities she connects between the young prince and her brother, she is able to fully identify with Alex and finds hours pass while she is reading the diary. As Alex's story draws to its height, so does Andi's immense grief. The novel builds momentum alternating between both women's stories in a flawless way.
Donnelly's novel explores the human heart and the depth of human emotion in its raw, most wrenching states. The reader fully experiences Andi's and Alex's grief and guilt, both palpable in the pages of the novel. Donnelly's musical weaving of both young women's storylines to create a whole operatic movement of a novel is mesmerizing. The content is weighty and the reader will find they are fully engrossed and invested in these characters. Anyone familiar with A Northern Light will be exceptionally captivated by Revolution, as will those who are experiencing Jennifer Donnelly's work for the first time.