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June 19, 2012
Read this YA Book If…
Revolution: Fighting for Beauty in an Ugly World
by Erin Cowles

There is a lot of ugliness in this world - make no mistake about that. People can be incomprehensibly cruel. Ideas and movements with good intentions get corrupted. Lives are shattered for no logical reason. But, as Jennifer Donnelly asserts in her novel Revolution, the beauty and love in the world matter and are worth fighting for, especially when the ugliness seems too powerful to fight.

After tragedy hits her family and it falls apart, guilt and anger consume Andi Alpers. She has chosen all the wrong ways to cope with her losses. She abuses prescription medication, contemplates suicide, and is facing expulsion from her elite private high school. Her only true comfort comes from her guitar.

When her father takes Andi on his business trip to Paris, she discovers the diary of Alex, a young Parisian woman living during the French Revolution's bloodiest days. Alex has developed an unexpected bond with the ill-fated son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and she has her own guilt and powerlessness to face.

Andi and Alex's stories intertwine in a surprising and supernatural way, and it teaches Andi how to heal and move forward in her life.

Andi learns that most of the time you can't change the world, but you can change yourself. And often, although you can't save the world, you can save somebody, or at least give him hope. The world may be ugly, but you don't have to be.

My favorite quote from the book is when Andi asserts, "It goes on, this world, stupid and brutal. But I do not. I do not." Despite her losses, Andi learns to fight for a meaningful life, and do what she can to help those facing ugliness.

I was impressed with Donnelly's ability to skillfully weave together a broad range of themes and research. She talked competently about rock history, music theory, french history, contemporary french culture, and DNA research.

I thought Donnelly provided the right amount of detail to add depth to the story without losing control of her complicated narrative. I also loved her ability to create two distinct but connected voices for her narrators. Alex's voice in particular is lyrical and haunting, and I looked forward to reading her segments.

I should mention that Revolution barely met my standard for appropriateness to recommend to an LDS audience. There is teen substance abuse (both prescription and illegal), allusions to teen sexuality, guillotine-related violence, contemplation of suicide, and profanity.

However, I assert that this book is an argument against these things. Revolution chronicles Andi's transformation from a teen obsessed with escape and numbness to a woman who fights to live a life full of meaning. The behaviors that contradict LDS standards are not glorified. They are shown in their true emptiness, and Andi rejects these behaviors by the novel's end.

Revolution had its flaws. The first 100 pages were painfully slow, and the way Donnelly argues against escapism through abusing antidepressants denigrated the infinite good properly used antidepressants can achieve. That said, it is a powerful, memorable, and hopeful book about living a meaningful life after loss, and I highly recommend it.

Read this book if..

Target audience: 16 and up.

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