Chris's Reviews > Revolution

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
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's review
May 25, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical, life, not-graphic, ya

The only reason I regret listening to this one is that I couldn't capture all of the good quotable lines and passages I heard the way I could have with printed pages. I'll have to go back and do that when my turn on the waiting list comes up, because it had a lot of good things to say. All in the service of an excellent, exciting, and engaging story that I really enjoyed.

To illustrate just how and why I enjoyed it in a way different than you might expect from knowing just a plot summary, let me share a blog post it inspired me to write.

Appeal Factors

I prejudge and stereotype, as we all do. I take my categories and preconceived notions and apply them to new things about which I have no real knowledge. It’s unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable or good. An area where I work with these factors daily is books and their appeal factors.

Awhile back, I was part of a discussion where my peers were raving about a particular book. Not just peers, but friends that often exchange recommendations with me, so I should have known enough to listen better and trust their opinions. I’m not going to claim I remember exactly what they said, but here’s what I heard: The book is about a teenage girl who’s sick or for some reason taking drugs, who travels to Paris and gets so caught up in reading a diary from the French Revolution that she imagines she’s actually there. Much of the discussion was about whether she hallucinated due to the drugs or whether she actually time traveled. But all agreed it was an excellent quality historical fiction. Here’s what I took away from what I heard: An excellent quality historical fiction about a girl, being raved about by girls, which means when I read it I’ll probably appreciate it but find it pretty dry and boring, dealing with issues I often can’t really relate to.

I didn’t get there completely in a vacuum, because that was my experience of the author’s previous book I’d read. A summary from the library catalog: In 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie, determined to attend college and be a writer against the wishes of her father and fiance, takes a job at a summer inn where she discovers the truth about the death of a guest. Based on a true story. There was a mystery involved, but it was mostly about a girl in a dress growing up on the prairie. I was able to admire the quality of the writing, but I wasn’t moved by it and found it fairly boring. I figured this would be more of the same.

I’m now listening to disc eight of twelve of the newer book, and there hasn’t been a dress or prairie in sight. I’m finding it a wholly different reading experience. The “time travel” element hasn’t even occurred yet, even though that was central to the discussion I heard about the book. But lots of things that weren’t mentioned have. Lots of things that I find the book’s appeal factors, but that no one thought were important to mention during the discussion praising it. Yes, about half of the book takes place during a historical period, but the character’s not in a dress living a typical female period-piece life; she’s a thief, street performer, rebel, spy, and terrorist who only wears britches, hangs out in the catacombs, and blows things up. The other half takes place in the present day with the main protagonist, an overly pierced musician and genius grieving the death of her younger brother, about to get expelled from school with a major attitude problem; she’s a cool bad-ass dressed in black, and is someone many contemporary teen readers will easily identify with. Yes, it’s about a girl and it’s halfway historical, but it’s pretty far from a typical, dull, girlie, historical fiction.

Of course, my reaction is based on my preconceived notions that historical fiction books are typically dull and girlie, and I’m sure many readers don’t have this prejudice against them. Still, I have to think they’re aware of the stereotype, so why, I wonder, didn’t any of the librarians in the discussion think to mention any of these appeal factors when trying to talk it up?

The book, by the way, is Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. And I don't imagine either character looks a thing like the ones pictured on the cover.

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