Seventeen-year-old Andi is in her last year at school in New York, but she can’t bear to work on her thesis on the 18th-century French composer, Amadé Malherbeau, even though music is her passion. Following her 10-year-old brother’s tragic death, she is on medication and feels both despairing and suicidal.
In desperation, her geneticist father takes her to Paris where he’s due to DNA test a small blackened heart, supposedly belonging to Louis-Charles, the lost son of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. Hoping Paris will kick-start Andi into doing her research on Malherbeau, he gives her an 18th-century guitar. Andi discovers a journal dated 1795 belonging to 17-year-old street actor, Alexandrine, inside the case.
Alex recounts how she was pulled out of poverty and taken to Versailles to amuse 10-year-old Louis-Charles. Her life and the unfolding tragedy of what happens to Louis-Charles echo Andi’s own personal traumas, and she becomes obsessed with both them and Malherbeau. It’s a race against time between the deadline for her thesis outline, discovering what happened to Alex and Louis-Charles and finding a way to cope with her own self-destructive impulses.
This is an extraordinary book. Donnelly gets inside the teenage mind brilliantly: the assumptions, the knowledge (or lack of it), the music, the language, the relationships are all 100 percent convincing. She is not afraid to strip Andi’s soul bare and let the reader experience what she is going through.
But Revolution succeeds as an historical novel, too. The scenes in Paris during the Terror are gripping. The chaos inside Andi’s head is made manifest as she confronts a 1795 world which is anarchic, dangerous and unpredictable.
This is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended for sophisticated girls of 12 plus who like stories which pack a real emotional punch.