Andi Alpers has lost her family – her mother to mental illness, her father to his new life, and her brother to death – and is close to losing herself. She is depressed and at risk of being expelled from school. Andi takes medicine to help ease her pain, but music is what brings her the most relief. Her geneticist father returns one day and drags her away with him to Paris where he has work to do and where he hopes that Andi will be able to focus her energy on writing her senior thesis outline. Her Parisian historian host, G, gives her an antique guitar and within its case she finds the diary of a young woman, Alexandrine Paradis, who lived over two centuries ago during the French Revolution. Alex was a theater performer who dreamt of the big stage. She thought she had found her in when she caught the attention of the royal family and was hired to be a companion to the young prince, Louis Charles. When the royal family was imprisoned and the young prince locked away in a tower prison, Alex realized that there was a far more important and dangerous role that she must play. As Andi reads Alex’s words she is captivated by her story and feels a connection with Alex that becomes even more real during a late night party in the catacombs of Paris.
I felt invested in both of the main characters in this novel – Andi and Alex. Andi has no clear life plans, perhaps because she cannot allow herself to dream of living with the guilt she feels at the death of her brother. Alex had big plans for herself, but they were sidestepped when she realized that her love for the young prince was more important. Both find themselves in a crucial moment in their lives and traumatized by the cruel events they have witnessed in life. Both women are talented performers, both see dead people, both are heartbroken by what has been done in the name of revolution to young men who they loved. Andi is, like her host Lili says, “a ghost….Almost gone.” (p. 79) For a character who is so lost, the reader is still able to see through her ghostly facade. We can see her in her friendship with Vijay, her growing relationship with Virgil, her connection with Alex, her love of music, and her sadness in her loss.
While I am not a huge fan of historical fiction, I must say that the diary portions of this novel sucked me in as much as they did for Andi. I found it hard to imagine Andi ever being able to put the journal down, as it was immensely hard to put this novel down myself. I suppose in both of our cases, deadlines sometimes get in the way of our passion for stories. The journal entries did not always read as I am accustomed to personal accounts reading, but I was so enthralled by the stories that it didn’t bother me. I decided that I was satisfied with my reasoning that Alex as a performer would have a different way of conveying her story than your typical journaler.
The story also speaks to the therapeutic power of music. Andi’s music teacher encourages her to use music to help her survive her grief – “one note at a time.” (p. 95) And it is when Andi is performing music that we see her at her happiest and most social. Her unintended love interest in the story makes his living as a taxi driver but lives for his music. Virgil is the most attractive love interest that I’ve come across in a novel in a long while. I love him. Seriously. He can borrow my iPod anytime. The novel is so filled with music, that I couldn’t help but make a mix. Missing from the mix of course is the music of Amadé Malherbeau who Andi is writing her thesis on – he does not exist, a fact which does not in any way help to quell my longing to hear his Fireworks Concerto.
I love the commentary in Revolution about history versus science. This debate is centered around a human heart that Andi’s father is conducting DNA tests on and that is believed to be the heart of Louis Charles. Her father believes the human heart is made up of proteins and that science is truth because it relies on fact rather than interpretation. G believes the human heart is made up of stories and argues that science can only tell us what we are, not who we are – that what gives something meaning isn’t its genetic breakdown but because of its context, because of stories, because of what it tells us about society and of ourselves. Donnelly also brings up the concept of the agency of the reader and how our lives affect our understanding of history. Andi’s father relates to the King and Queen as a parent who can’t imagine having to leave his children behind in such a brutal world, while Andi relates to Alex as a young woman tasked with caring for a child who she loved deeply and could not save from the cruelty of others.
In the end, perhaps the biggest questions that Donnelly asks are about ideals and revolution and the ever-present brutality in our world. She asks, do the ideals of revolution justify its violent means? How can a people fight for liberty, equality, and fraternity while depriving certain citizens of those basic rights? Is it possible to build a better world on a foundation of brutality? Is any ideal ever worth the life of a child?
I could say that I recommend Revolution to lovers of music and historical fiction (which I do), but that is not enough. The story is an impressive blend of contemporary fiction and historical fiction, with heart-wrenching character development. Donnelly’s musical references awaken the auditory system for anyone with a strong internal jukebox. She raises thought-provoking questions and makes the reader wish that they could change history. Revolution will be released on October 12th and I encourage anyone who loves a great story to be in line with me that day purchasing a copy.
Note: Advanced Reader Copy sent from publisher.
Special thanks to Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books and Music for recommending this title!