Andi Alpers is desperately sad—or perhaps just desperate. Ever since the death of her little brother, she’s been adrift. Her mother has come unhinged, her dad has left his damaged old family for a new life, and Andi is barely holding it together. Only when she’s playing her guitar does she feel sane. When she’s warned that without a stellar senior thesis, she’ll be expelled from her exclusive Brooklyn prep school, her father whisks her away to Paris, where he’s investigating a 200-year-old genetic mystery.
Andi’s ostensibly there to do her own research on a remarkably prescient 18th-century composer and his musical heirs. But almost as soon as she arrives in Paris, she becomes far more invested in the city’s history than she could have imagined. In an antique guitar case, she discovers an ancient diary written by a young woman very much like herself. Alexandrine Paradis was a performer, too, one who got swept up in revolution—and love—despite herself. As Andi reads Alexandrine’s diary, she becomes more and more immersed in the drama of a dead girl and the little boy for whom she sacrificed everything.
As in her previous novel for young adults, the award-winning A Northern Light, Jennifer Donnelly combines impeccable historical research with lively, fully fashioned characters to create an indelible narrative. Revolution is a complex story, moving back and forth in time and including allusions not only to historical events but also to literature (especially Dante’s Divine Comedy) and to music from Handel to Wagner to Radiohead. Yet this undeniably cerebral book is also simultaneously wise and achingly poignant. Alexandrine writes in her diary, “After all the blood and death, we woke as if from a nightmare only to find that the ugly still are not beautiful and the dull still do not sparkle.” Just as Alexandrine comes to terms with her country’s dashed hopes, Andi must find a place where hope—and love—can flourish despite disillusion and despair.