Find it at a local indie!
- Why I read it: France, cataphiles, art music, goth angst, Viva la Revolucion, love and loss, hype
- Disclosure: Won a copy in a contest from Novel Novice. Thanks!
BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.If I don't get in on a hyped book right away, it tends to languish towards the bottom of my to-read list. Maybe it's the hipster in me, maybe it's just that I know I'll be disappointed, but that's just the way I am. Still, when I saw Novel Novice's Revolution giveaway, I figured I'd give it a shot. Of course, I was one of the winners. And whether it's dumb luck or fate, I'm so happy this book and I crossed paths in the end - it's heartbreaking, sweeping, and beautiful: YA historical fiction at its absolute best.
PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.
Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.
I'd like to say Jennifer Donnelly's writing won me over from the start, because it's unbelievably pretty, but I was reluctant. The angst felt over-the-top, bordering on melodramatic, but as Andi's story started to unfold, I found myself completely sucked in - I finished it in two sittings, one late on a school night and the other rather frantically in the college library before class. It's like what I imagine would happen if I met Andi outside of the pages of a book: Crazy angry tension at first, and then realizing that there's a heckuva lot under the surface. I don't know how hard Donnelly had to reach for Andi's voice, but it's pitch-perfect, sad and in the moment without ever being depressing to read. And while music is the stereotypical savior in a lot of YA, Donnelly does it better than I've ever read. To Andi, music is an addiction and a life - and even though I usually think pop culture references are a bad idea, throwing out names like Jack White and The Decemberists kept it real.
Despite the fact that I would kill (maybe even literally kill) to go to Paris with the inside connections Andi has, it's proof of how dear she is to my heart that I didn't hold it against her that she didn't want to be there. I got that she had other stuff going on. But sweet holy Moses, can I take her place? Donnelly's Paris is, to use the reviewer cliche, "rich and evocative." It's got the seamy, seedy, steamy quality I usually associate with urban fantasy, full of catacombs and great music and skinny artsy boys with dreads and creepy things that can't quite be explained. Forget Madeline's Paris - the catacombs are where I want to be, especially after I found this really amazing National Geographic photo gallery and article right after finishing the book.
I wasn't so fond of Alexandrine's story, though. The historical fiction plot twist of diaries that don't really read like diaries gets old fast, and the other plot twist further into the story that I won't spoil for those who haven't read it felt even older. There were brilliant parts, though, especially the "I do not" quote, and it drove home what revolution really means in a timely fashion considering the current situation in the Middle East (which I know the author couldn't have had in mind, but still). And despite my love of Andi, sometimes the angst - especially the drugged angst - did go over the top.
That said, there were so many things that helped this novel stand out from stereotype, with one in particular which I haven't seen get much attention in reviews its treatment of Middle Eastern immigrants. It starts with Virgil working his tail off and ends with the little girl at the end of the book - to me that showed that Donnelly was genuinely in touch with France and not just using it as a gimmicky setting. In fact, she felt more in touch with Paris than she did with New York. And with that segway I'm going to make a quick request to authors/editors/those in charge of making books happen - NYC is awesome, but can we please see more YA outside of it? Pretty please?
Leaving that tangent behind, this book felt like it was written just for me; angst, cataphilia, and all. Despite its problems, it's been so long since I've gotten that feeling from a book, and from the positive response it's gotten from the blogosphere, I'd say I'm not the only one. If you're in the YA Historical Fiction challenge like me this should definitely be at the top of your list, and even if you're not, this is one hyped up read you must check out. A Northern Light, here I come! Four and a half out of five stars.
As tribute to Andi (and also because I just like music), I'm going to start sharing my current music at the bottom of blog posts. I'd love if I could get some "what-we-did-before-Pandora" recommendations of similar stuff. Thanks for humoring me!
Now Listening: "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" by Smashing Pumpkins