Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly

I’ve said before that I like the kind of novel where you have two sets of characters in two different time periods, and the novel goes back and forth between them. Especially when one of the sets of characters (the modern one) is researching the other set (the old-time-y one.) So when I saw that Jennifer Donnelly, beloved of the blogosphere (that is you) for her Rose books and then Northern Lights, had written a book of this sort, I was…well, I was mildly intrigued. I thought I might get it from the library sometime if I remembered to.

Then I got a new job, and I had to move away from everything that is familiar to me, and go off into the unknown and do everything new and different. Then Indie Sister came into town to bid me farewell, and we went to the bookshop, and it turns out that when we are stressed, we buy things. Like books. When we were at the Bongs & Noodles, I saw Revolution and I was like I MUST HAVE THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY FOR MY LIFE IS INCOMPLETE WITHOUT IT.

My life was probably not incomplete without this book, but it was a pretty damn good book. It is about this girl called Andi who is struggling to recover from her little brother’s recent death. She has become completely self-destructive and miserable, so her parents decide she must go off to Paris with her scientist father, there to do her homework and start behaving like a real person. While she is there she discovers a diary belonging to this acrobat trickster actress girl from the French Revolution.

Initially I found Andi trying. The build-up to the revelation of what had happened to make Andi so embittered and miserable went on and on and on, and by the time it got properly revealed (as Jill said), Andi would have had to have orchestrated 9/11 for me to feel like all the angst and stress were merited. The book was slow to start, I admit, but once Andi got to Paris and discovered the diary and met the interesting people she met, I couldn’t put it down. I was so impressed that Donnelly managed to make the characters and plotlines of both her main characters emotionally interesting. Even the minor characters were pretty well fleshed-out.

There was just this one thing that kept me from loving it. I hugely did not like the way the book handled mental illness – or actually, the way it handled mental health facilities. It was very much all this “If Van Gogh  had had Prozac we wouldn’t have his beautiful art” and, like, mental health professionals willfully refuse to understand you, and the characters getting “put” into mental institutions even though THEY WERE GETTING BETTER OMG WHY ARE YOU DEPRIVING THEM OF THEIR ART. It wasn’t even a thoughtful version of these arguments, which I would have liked reading, but rather the typical, simplistic, kneejerk version that you get in every third book and film and TV show. I gnashed my teeth in anger.

Otherwise very good! My introduction to Jennifer Donnelly was a slightly qualified success! And now that I have my very own brand-new New York Public Library card, I can go forth and investigate the rest of her books. Hurrah!

Who else has read it:

my Mumsy (but she hasn’t reviewed it yet. Too bad for you.)
Rhapsody in Books
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Good Books & Good Wine
Killin’ Time Reading
Love YA Lit
The Fourth Musketeer
Book Sake

Tell me if I missed yours!

42 thoughts on “Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly

  1. Heh, you get indignant about the portrayal of mental health professionals, I get indignant about the portrayal of biologists. Seems about right. 🙂 But I’m glad you liked it despite all that!

    Also, I am also a huge fan of parallel storylines books, so if you come across any good ones (or even any ‘pretty okay’ ones), let me know! It’s a hard genre to search for without getting recommendations from other people.

    • I could totally see why the portrayal of the father would bother you, dude. I thought the book described as more of a villain than he actually seemed to me. It was silly.

      Have you read Possession? It’s very good. And also, if you read Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, it’s so, so fantastic. If you don’t like reading plays, Arcadia is maybe not the best choice, but if you like a play, but the parallel storylines are superb.

      • I have Possession on my shelf but haven’t read it yet; I think the teeny tiny font is scaring me away. And as for plays, I haven’t really read any since freshman year of college, but I’m not morally opposed to it, either. I’ll have to check it out!

      • also, this idea that the person should be sacrificed so society can have the art. That’s what I really hate about it: you’re saying give up (to an extent) on the person because society so needs to product of the thing that destroys that person’s life.

        I mean, van gogh did some pretty amazing stuff, but even if we accepted the premise that he couldn’t have done it without the crazy, would it be worth his life?

  2. Blah. The whole ART AND MADNESS: THEY BE LINKED thing always bothers me too. But I’m glad you enjoyed this regardless! I think I will too. And now read A Gathering (Northern? I can never remember which one is the UK and which one is the US title) Light! It’s so awesome.

    • It’s not that I utterly don’t believe it in any degree, but I hate the way people act like it’s a totally true thing that everyone already knows about. Grrrrr.

      I will indeed read that one! It sounds wonderful.

  3. We had pretty much identical reactions to this book. I loved the haunting atmosphere (I know, that’s cliched, especially considering the plotline, but it really is the mot juste) – I had a Revolution hangover for a few days after I read it. Very annoyed by the mental health part, especially the meds. But while I was awfully frustrated that Donnelly wouldn’t just TELL ME WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED

    • The mental health part made me not want to reread it as much as I wanted to want to reread it. I mean, take two seconds and do some research and turn in a very slightly more nuanced depiction of it.

  4. Huh, must have hit submit. Anyway, while I was frustrated by the long run-up to what happened to Truman, I did think she told it at precisely the right moment for the romantic part of the plot.

  5. Vaguely I recall being similarly irritated by the teenage girl angst at the beginning of Northern Lights, but found things to like anyway, although I thought the second and third one of that series petered out. Having read your warnings, I think I might try this one. I’m more on the side Nymeth so aptly calls Art and Madness They Be Linked, anyway, so while I’ll be irritated by the one-sidedness, at least for once (she says, waking up in a very red state), I won’t be futilely trying to argue the other side the whole time.

    • Like I said to Nymeth, I’m not NOT on the Art and Madness They Be Linked side. But I hate it how people get up on their high horse about if Van Gogh had had Prozac we wouldn’t have Starry Night. Even if that’s true, which I don’t necessarily think it is, maybe Van Gogh would have preferred to be happy. Or maybe he would have painted other things if he’d been happy. And been happy! Being happy is nice.

  6. Loved this one! Here’s my review (complete with Revolution music mix):

    Your critique of the mental facility portrayal is interesting. If I read Revolution again someday I will have to keep an eye out for that. It’s also interesting to think of the similarities or differences between Andi and her mom – both have focused all of their time and energy on their art in order to heal (or avoid) the pain of losing Truman, but Andi’s mom is the one put in the mental facility and I can’t help but wonder how much this has to do with her artistic medium (painting being much more visible and taking up much more space than music).

  7. I have this book waiting for me and I am looking forward to it, although I think the mental illness aspect of it will bother me as well. I haven’t read any of Donnelly’s other books, so I am going to be starting here like you did. It sounds like there is a lot of angst in this one though, and that could spell trouble for me. I am not particularly sympathetic to angst. I will have to let you know what I think of it after I am done.

    • I hope you like it in spite of the mental health stuff – being warned always helps me. I wish I’d known about it before I started so I could prepare myself early on. :p

  8. Malproportionate guilt is one of my least favorite flaws in a plot device. Not that I really have any favorite flaws in a plot device. I find them all annoying. Or do I? I’ll have to think about that.


    I loved A Northern Light (though same reaction as Jeanne at the start), then I started The Tea Rose and couldn’t get over the innitial annoyance hump with it.

    • Now I’m trying to think of the best flaws in a plot device too. If you think of any you should let me know. I want to think of all the plot device flaws out there and rank them. I love ranking things.

      Oh, I didn’t realize the Rose books were sequels to A Northern Light. Now I feel silly. :p

  9. I have reserved this at our library, having seen several very good reviews. I love dual time frame novels, my favourites include The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, all of Kate Morton’s novels, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O Farrell, The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff – that’s all I can remember off the top of my head!

    • I am just about to read The Hand that First Held Mine. Dual time frame novels are great – have you read Possession? That’s the one that’s sort of set the standard for all the dual time frame novels I read thereafter.

  10. This is an author I’ve long wanted to try. I was going to write a sensible comment here but I can’t because I am still laughing over Bongs & Noodles and just want to say it over and over and over. Bongs & Noodles! Bongs & Noodles! Oh this just isn’t going to get old.

    • Look, it will never get old. One time I was with my friend and we were driving home from Barnes & Nobles and she called it Bongs & Noodles and I was thrilled and it has not gotten old from that day to this. And it’s been, like, eight years.

  11. I thought about buying this book but wasn’t sure since I haven’t read anything by Donnelly. Glad to hear it was a great read. I’ll put it near the top of my tbr pile.

  12. I just reviewed Revolution today! I agree with your assessment, except for me the big, glaring issue was the way in which Andi learned what she needed to from Alex. I’m being deliberately vague so as to avoid spoilers!

  13. Unusual review, I love it! By the way, I reviewed it! Add me onto the list!*

    *Disclaimer: You don’t actually have to add me to the list as you don’t even know me…

  14. I was just looking at this book last night, wondering if I should pick it up and try reading it. I decided that I’d get it through the library, rather than buying it.

    It seemed interesting, and the name keeps coming up, so there’s got to be something good going on.

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