I mentioned Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution in a recent post. I quite enjoyed her earlier novel, A Northern Light, so I was pleased to see this title at the library. Well. This is a different book. Here's a bit of background: Andi Alpers is a privileged Brooklyn teen who's recently experienced a great tragedy from which she has not recovered and which splintered her family. She happens to find the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age living during the horrors of the French revolution who becomes the companion of the ill-fated Dauphin. The narrative bounces between Andi in present day and Alexandrine in the past, via her diary.
This is a dark book. I don't have an issue with dark, and, given this book's focus, dark is appropriate. However, the world Andi and her peers inhabit -- wealthy, privileged, decadent, libertine, often inebriated or drug-dulled, self-absorbed, cruel, and careless -- is dismaying and, honestly, appalling. One could argue that Andi's emotional state casts a dark veil over her entire world and how she sees it. But there's really too much grittiness to make this position completely tenable.
Of more interest to me was Alexandrine's world. Donnelly does a wonderful job bringing this era to life, both in the diary and in Andi's later experiences. I also enjoyed other parts of the book and was pleased with the ending, although such a recovery seems like a house built on shifting sands to me.
Another point: the "discovered secret diary" motif is a tired one. I realize its obvious usefulness for linking past to present, especially to a particular person, injecting meaning into an otherwise anonymous history lesson. But I have a hard time envisioning someone like Alexandrine having the time to write lengthy entries in a diary. Would someone of her background and family have even been literate? I doubt it. and where did she get the paper, the pen, the ink? So the diary is problematic in more ways than one. Let's figure something else out, okay?
All that being said, I'm glad I read Revolution. There's enough there to consider, mull over, and process, both for the present and the past. Apparently others think so as well, since the book has won some awards for YA literature.
I would not, however, hand this book off to a teenager without a word. Read it first and think about how your child might respond. The book's circumstances and setting would certainly spark meaningful discussions on myriad topics with your child. And it's written for an age group in which these types of discussions would perhaps be wise.