In Jennifer Donnelly's exquisite new young adult book, Revolution, there's a juxtaposition of two young lives, lived two hundred years apart, and the idea and reality of Revolution. In modern times, Andi Alpers is a high school senior at the exclusive New York school St. Anselm's, and while her life should be one of ease and comfort, she's haunted by the sudden, tragic death of her younger brother Truman two years before. During the French revolution, Alexandrine Paradis is a teen whose very life depends upon her ability to be a convincing actress and spy. Brought together by Alex's diary, the two young women are on different paths to self-discovery, yet neither one may survive.
Andi's a tragic figure in many ways, and her story isn't a pretty one. Never very close to her father, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, the death of Truman drives a wedge further into their relationship, particularly once he leaves Andi and her mother for good. Andi's mother retreats into a cloud of painting and depression until Andi's father is forced to place her into a mental institution; her pain is echoed in Andi, who also finds that popping prescription anti-depressants numbs her to the guilt she feels over Truman. In a life filled with drugs and soul-rending pain, Andi considers repeatedly taking her own life; the only force of good she feels is when she can retreat into music. It is this force that draws her to Virgil, a young man she meets when she's forced by her father to go to Paris with him while her mother is institutionalized. It is there that she finds Alex's diary, and her journey back in time begins.
There is so much to this story, so many layers revealed, often slowly; yet getting inside Andi's mind is difficult because she puts up defenses that make it hard even for the reader to get close to her. The adults in her life have let her down so often that there is no hope for her there, and yet she's isolated herself from almost everyone in order to squelch the pain she feels over Truman. When Virgil appears and offers her something to hold on to, it almost makes you want to scream at her to grab him and never let go, yet Andi's tenuous hold on life is so fragile it seems possible that she will not make it. It is only as she loses herself in the pages of Alex's diary that she can discover what it is she needs to do in order to make peace with her losses.
Donnelly's writing is rich and full of depth, and the parallel lives of these two young women are both equally engaging. There is so much feeling among the pages, and Andi's self-destructive behavior makes your heart hurt as you are forced to experience her life. Donnelly weaves history effortlessly into the story, and I was particularly impressed with her grasp of historical music. The voices of Andi and Alex are going to be with me a very long time and I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Jennifer Donnelly, your writing never lets me down. Five plus stars.