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LizzieBennet

Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Revolution

Revolution (Perfect Paperback) - Jennifer Donnelly
***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***
 
I picked this up because I was quite fond of A NORTHERN LIGHT. I also knew that REVOLUTION had two time periods, which is a storytelling method I enjoy. I really liked the way historical artifacts were important to unraveling the mystery, and I enjoyed the Parisian setting a lot. REVOLUTION hopes to pull off historical fiction, blended with contemporary fiction and added fantasy elements while also being literary. It was successful in some ways, and not in others. 
 
The truth is, I sort of had to slog through REVOLUTION (an awful title, by the way, in conveying nothing about the book), even though I'm a devoted history buff. With the French Revolution being so central, the author had to assume that most readers wouldn't know the history, so there were some unfortunate, dragging instances of history-dump, and historical figures "explicating" things that would have been understood at the time. But that's not necessarily where the biggest slow-down was. I got bored with the format of Andi reading the journal, musing out loud about what she or we had just read, and then picking up the journal again. The review of the audiobook likened the alternating voices to a duet, and that would be so clever if Donnelly intended it, but it wasn't seamlessly done given all that repetitive hand-wringing ("Alex is in such trouble! I can't stand reading this! No, I can't stop reading this!"). I also got tired of Andi's near-suicides, and angsty inner monologues, which is a terribly unfortunate feeling for a reader to experience at moments when we know we should feel empathy. The whole book just wasn't, I don't know, trim enough. 
 
And while I'm on the subject of angst: there's teenage angst and there's clinical depression. Andi seemed to have both, which I think does a disservice to people who are truly depressed. Sometimes Andi was a bratty teen and sometimes we were supposed to feel she was deeply depressed. The lack of a consistent register made worrying about her difficult.

 

I wasn't sure what Donnelly was trying to say with the time-travel at the end. Was it there to make the Terror even more palpable to us, or to make Andi recognize the beauty and value of a life free of that sort of oppression and uncertainty? Because when books are about depression and thoughts of suicide, any kind of external "solution" to the problem that doesn't involve family support, therapy, and successful medication is sort of...I dunno, misleading? Disrespectful? I thought Andi was internalizing the pain of Alex pretty well without spending time in her actual body. Couldn't she have figured out Mahlerbeau's noble background without having him tell her?
 
I didn't buy the lack of resolution with Andi's father. I think it's common for one or both divorced parents to settle into that sort of distant relationship with their almost-grown kids, but in this case father and daughter were able to interact with each other somewhat, and the "barrier" was their inability to talk about the thing that was most painful for both of them (he revealed that he felt responsible for Truman's death; we know that Andi felt responsible...). After she heard him say that he felt responsible over the phone, and given all that she learned from this experience with Alex, I found the lack of talking about it inexplicable. If they had talked and still not come together--because she still felt betrayed by his concentration on work and not family all those years, and his abandoning them to start a new family--I would have accepted that. But let them have it out, please. Especially given how much Andi has grown, and the fact that her dad is basically decent, if flawed.
 
There were moments in conversations that were clearly supposed to be in French but the translation we were reading (in English) forgot that fact. Here's an example: one French person says "Stalagtite" and another says "Stalagmite" and Andi makes a play on words by saying "Stalagfright." Even if Andi is just saying "Stalagfright" out loud to herself in English, it ignores the fact that French people pronounce the words "stalagmeet" and "stalagteet," so hers is no longer a straight rhyme. In 18th-C France she says things like, "Later, Deo." What are we supposed to assume she said in French that's the equivalent?
 
It seems like Donnelly takes on massive projects and does a pretty great job, but they're almost too much for her to handle and small but critical things fall apart. I don't have a review up for A NORTHERN LIGHT on Booklikes because I read it a while ago, but as much as I loved it, I was a little disappointed at the unrealistic ending. I mean, it's not that no women went to college in 1906, but they were very few and far between. I was delighted to read something about one of the few who did manage to go to college, but I wanted Donnelly to make me believe it. Maddie's story and family life didn't support it. (There was some sort of financial deus ex machina as I remember, too.) 
 
In short, this was a miss for me. But I appreciate so much that Donnelly takes on ambitious projects, and I hope she keeps doing it. We need YA authors who are hitting with all their might for the literary stands.