Tag Archives: Young Adult

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly is quickly turning into one of my favorite authors, a beautiful find in the literary world.  After reading her novel The Winter Rose (sequel to the Tea Rose), I realized I’d stumbled across another gem with an amazing talent, a love of writing and a gift of storytelling.  Her latest release, Revolution, will have a sweeping appeal across the board to both adult and young adult readers alike.

Revolution is an intriguing tale that weaves historical fiction with the gritty edge of young adult drama.  Andi Alpers is a troubled teenager living in modern-day Brooklyn.  On the surface, she has everything to hope for; she’s highly intelligent, exceptionally talented as a musician and is attending an exclusive, private school in New York.  Alexandrine Paradis, the alternate protagonist in this novel, becomes the voice of two centuries past whose words come to the living through a diary Andi later finds while on a trip to Paris. 

It quickly becomes apparent, in this double-entendre, that each woman has a radical change, a revolution of her own that she is destined to face.  Andi’s family has been torn apart by an unexpected tragedy.  She’s suffering from guilt and the grief of having tragically lost her younger brother Truman two years earlier.  Her mother, with limited ability to cope, has retreated in her own shell, while her father, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist, leaves them, unbeknownst until later, to their own disarray.  But while Andi repeatedly has suicidal thoughts, she immerses herself in the art of her own music to find a place of solace.  

Eventually, the rage catches up to her.  Andi is close to expulsion from her elite high school when her father suddenly becomes aware of the circumstances of the family now falling apart in his absence.  Taking action to settle the situation, he checks her mother into a mental institution (much to Andi’s contentious disagreement), and takes Andi with him to Paris where she is to work on her senior thesis of guitarist Amadé Malherbeauand of the 18th century where Andi’s life is about to take another turn for the unexpected.

While lodging with a friend of her father’s, a renowned historian, Andi eventually discovers Alexandrine’s diary, a young teenager who lived 200 years ago during the bloodiest battles of the French Revolution and who served Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI in their final days, each of whom were doomed to the guillotined. Though Alex had dreams of being an actor, she found herself serving as companion to the young dauphin (the son of Marie Antoinette), to whom she had grown close and become so considerably fond of.

Jennifer Donnelly has a writing style that induces the deepest emotions from the reader.  Though Andi would seem a more relatable character since she and I are of the same era, there was something about Alexandrine’s harrowing desperation, her vivid description of what she witnessed in her time that whirled me into her storyline.  I felt myself there, in her shoes, at the palace in the midst of the revolutionaries’ increasing aggression. 

I’d briefly touched on the French Revolution in highschool, and my last fictional encounter of it was in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  But Ms. Donnelly gave me a ticket to another venue with a front row seat. A literary performance that brought me to the action of this historical calamity between the aristocracy of France and the peasantry whose uprising proved too brutal in making their point.  Interestingly, Andi’s father is performing genetic tests on a small heart believed to belong to the young dauphin who was imprisoned under inhumane conditions by Robespierre (a terror and influential figure of the French Revolution).  Andi feels a gut-wrenching compassion towards the young child’s plight and agony, I imagine for reasons that he was, for her, her Truman equivalent. 

Through Donnelly’s spell-binding storytelling, I reached a level of understanding of the French Revolution in ways that no history book has ever been able to do for me.

Donnelly is also accomplished in her historical research, and diligently does her work in gathering pieces, taking you through the streets of Paris in both its past to present state, while showing a startling contradiction, that dividing line of two worlds, one crude and unpleasant, an era of marked discontent, the other boisterous and full of new life, equality, both separated by nothing more than intangible time.

Through this novel, Jennifer Donnelly has written a story that explores the theme of good and evil, and having the courage to ask questions “How could something like this happen?” of a time and place where horrific atrocities ran rampant and became commonplace.  Unimaginable to us living in the modern-day United States, how could something like this be allowed, especially to young children?  We often see this in themes of war. Why is it that people, in their gain for wealth and power, shed their humanity in their sociopathic pursuit for earthly gains that are never really permanent?  Does war, any war, even if it were to take place today on any continent, really provoke unspeakable evil?  Or, do such unspeakable acts become a necessary evil? Depending on the perspective of victim versus survivor.  Of one whose witnessed such iniquities that they are pushed to the brink of having to take action to change the politics and institution that suppressed them.  After all, isn’t anger the reaction to an unjust?  And what is unjust?  The suffering of the peasantry, the revolution that followed to bring democracy to France? Or the price that would have to be paid for a new democracy to come about?

And let’s not be so mighty as to rank ourselves above our ancestors.  Is it possible, could it occur from any of us for that matter?  Since people are people, after all, we are linked together, regardless of time, space and era?  Though we like to think of ourselves as being ‘above it’, are we all as equally capable of such monstrosities?  Or can we learn from the past though authors like Jennifer Donnelly who are here to remind us, from a more sober perspective that we’ve gained as a society, the events of the past that left its stain?

Everyone has somebody that they love, and as you read this book, the characters within it will draw such a parallel for you.  Revolution is highly recommended to both new and veteran readers of Donnelly’s work.  Follow my post to my website, http://debrahutchens.com/blog/, where a brief discussion and video on the french revolution follows.  This is one book that will carve a deeper understanding, a greater awareness, and excite an appreciation for an epoch in history that is worth remembering.

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Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

This is one book that is long overdue in its time to be mentioned on this page.  A story that, to date, hundreds of people have spent time analyzing, practically shredding its psychological context to pieces.  Before you think this is another book review, my analyses will dig a trench far deeper than that.  I’m here to discuss Twilight from a much purer perspective.

First, I haven’t seen any of the movies yet, but, being an avid reader, I’ve read all the books.  I’m not a die-hard fan, just someone with an appreciation for yet another book I’ve come across. I’ll take a stab in the dark in my presumption that I won’t be needing to do the usual run down of the typical synopsis that I’ve done with other books.  You’ve all heard the story by now, it’s quite simple, the concept known familiarly by most of us, even to those who have yet to read it if it ever pleases them to do so. 

A young teenage girl moves from sunny Phoenix to live with her father in the rainy town of Forks.  Eventually she meets and falls in love with a handsome teenage boy in her class, (one to whom she finds herself powerfully drawn) only to later discover he’s not quite human.  A discovery that will do nothing to deter her, but one that will ultimately test their love and lead to a quadrant of books in the same series that will explore not just their relationship, but a host of problems that are sure to stem from it.

Typical teenage stuff, really.  In fact, as Fan-tastical as Twilight is, there is much to it that many people, teens and adults alike, can actually relate to on a more powerful scale that dives in its reach beyond our consciousness.  This is what I’m here to discuss with you today.  That part of fantasy fiction that works so well to identify with us on a very human level to suction readers into its universe.   And might I mention as a side bar -that which has become the most controversial part here- the writing style, which I find to operate at a breakneck speed of clean, simple prose, with a quality of poetic substance that is uncomplicated and bears few embellishments.

When the book first came out, it all seemed to surmount the concept of innocence, did it not?  The book cover with the famous hand reaching out, holding, gently cupping the apple; the hand of a young teenage girl, of pure white skin, unpolished nails, cast in an aura of diffused lighting.  The hand that reached to temp something…or rather, someone.  What is it, exactly, that this innocent was inviting to bring upon herself?

Then there’s the apple.  Okay, I get it.  The apple represents the forbidden fruit.  Bella is Edward’s forbidden fruit.  Yet before I was provided with this explanation, I, like so many readers, was forced to use my own imagination and interpret the visual imagery for myself.  Several pages into the book, we are treated with an excerpt from the Book of Genesis 2:17 “But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  Unbeknownst to Eve, she was trading eternity, her immortality in paradise with a mortality that would be far more painful.  Something good was to be given up, foresaken, in the act of resigning herself to temptation. Something she wanted in that moment of desire. But as theologists and scholars would argue, some would say Eve was in control, the one who tempted Adam to his doom.

Is this the new twist, unintended or not, of Vampirism?  Something we’ve historically come to know through Bram Stoker’s legend and every rendition that followed, when good was corrupted, de-flowered from evil, and given a novel twist in Vampire folklore for the first time ever.  It seemed to me that the book cover, in the ballad of this legend, portrayed good challenging evil for the first time ever.  That it would ultimately come to tame it, the way a lion tamer subdues and subjugates its ferocious beast to submission.  I’m not claiming this to be a universal impression, nor am I presuming that this was the intent of the publisher when they did the cover art work for the book, but it was the first ‘message’ that I got.  And it has stayed with me ever since. 

Then the movie came out.  And the book cover changed.  Or did it?  Gone was the hand holding the forbidden fruit, and in its place, emerging from the corridors of our literary imaginations were the characters fulfilling and rounding out these roles in their glorified forms.  The beautiful male vampire, who we’ve come to know as Edward Cullen, of pallid skin, reanimation of the living dead, with blood thirst in his eyes, cloaking a shield of protection to the young Bella Swan whose youthful face is an apparent posture of vulnerability and innocence.  No makeup, no streak of ash blonde or low tone highlights, no blood-red gloss to her lips, not a hint of blush to her cheeks.  Not this girl.  Only the peach color of her humanity giving rise to her pure beauty.  She is not a slayer ready to take on the vampire world, but someone who unwittingly, and yet with an open heart, walks blindly into it.  All form of sexuality seems eliminated until you later realize it’s there, not to worry, just hidden under the sheets.

This was my first point of relation to the book.  I am that girl.  Ordinary, plain, falling for the guy outside my league who’s impossibly gorgeous beyond his right to be.  If I read this book when I was in my teens, I would probably have empathized with Bella Swan, at least in the early hours of her loneliness and ultimate feelings of desolation when Edward, in the coming sequence, makes his departure.  But I jump ahead here.  The first book in the series opens with Bella at the airport, saying goodbye to her mother where she is slated on a one-way trip to Forks in order to live with her father and situate herself before the first day of school.  She is lonely, unsettled, anxiety running slightly high and feeling understandably scared (at least, this is what I felt on her behalf).  Though seemingly ordinary in its opening chapters, it manages to draw us in as readers begin to feel a parallel of closeness in this experience we watch her tread alone.  A path each of us might have walked ourselves at some point in our lives.

Bella wasn’t overly confident, but let’s be real, who is at that age?  Is it fair to put that kind of pressure on a young protagonist?  I don’t care about stories which evolve around the ‘Mean Girls’ and the ‘Heathers’ who parade with egotistical, self-inflated importance through the hallways of high school, but ordinary ones who are simply trying to fit in like the rest of us.  The kind of girls I came to be friends with; the ones who became the core of my circle.  And while some might view her insecurities as annoying, it was a part of what made her so humanly relatable. 

Is she the best role model?  She’s not supposed to be.  Do stories have to teach, or can they simply exist as a focal point of relation to our own lives, where we evaluate ourselves by watching others? So the debate will continue to rage on regardless of what anyone says, depending on one’s perspective of this novel.  Economists can’t seem to agree with the projected forecast of today’s financial crisis, so readers aren’t expected to agree either and will continue to extract something different.  As the saying goes, To each his own.

So this brings us to the next chapter in the series.  New Moon followed in its wake.  The interesting thing  here, among the many other book cover designs that have been used, is the humanistic expressions  featured in the cover art.  It is brimming with symbolism.  Therein lies the message of an evolution that is taking place.   Regret, departure, longing, possession, dominion over one’s territory.   But most importantly it is Bella’s transformation that is, if only moderately so, slightly more sexualized.   Now that she’s been exposed to the experience of first love from not just one, but two suitors, she’s one step further away from her innocence, and one step closer to becoming a woman.  She is less girl-ish here, more womanly, as these inter-gender relationships are serving to transform her in her journey to that eventual decision she is compelled to make. The choice between two loves, and later, that of life and death.

I don’t think Young Adult fiction has to teach a lesson.  When I was growing up, the library separated fiction into Adult and juvenile, where so many of the young books aimed at teen audiences revolved around ‘doing the right thing’.  YA fiction today explores these episodes through practice in absence of a reprimand.  Is there any wonder why parents seem to be ‘out of the picture’ or strangely absent from the lives of these teens?  Think Elena Gilbert of the Vampire Diaries who simply has an aunt as a guardian, fostered at the young age of seventeen where she now feels a duty to serve as  her younger brother’s protector.  Perhaps these teens are intended to venture these experiences alone, without the benefit of adult intervention.  Bella is a student, conscientious, thoughtful, introspective with a sincere confession that she finds it hard to ‘relate to people her age’.  Just another girl who seems slightly introverted without a “click” posse of friends.  She isn’t the most popular girl in class, but had only but a handful of friends who’ve proven sincere.    

She was uncoordinated and un-athletic.  So was I in highschool.  It seemed to me that everyone ranked athletically in some sport, and while I might have tried to get into track during those first critical weeks of tryout, I was eventually relegated to junior varsity because I wasn’t physically qualified, or more aptly put, worthy to compete in Varsity.  And don’t even get me started on gym class.  In sophomore year I left second-period in tears when we played floor hockey, when I inadvertently shot a puck into the opposing team’s goalie.  That’s how uncoordinated I was.  I even missed the boat on strategy.  I was the one ‘unleashed’ to the classes’ peril.   

So I found her ‘bull in a china shop’ awkwardness to be a near memorable impression of my own experiences in that period.  Dishes slip out of my hands when I’m washing them at the sink, I dropped a pizza the other day (luckily it was still in the box, so the cheese just hit the roof of the cardboard), and well, the list goes on, like the way I cook, (I cut my finger the other day dicing pepperoni).  Band Aid Brands will be kept in business through me.  So the shame I felt of my own lack of handling capability was put in a gentler light that seemed far less condemning.  As opposed to other heroines in classic literature who are untouchable, valiant, flawless.   

Rather, I’ve been served one who is relatable and flawed in so many ways.  One that isn’t trying to prove anything.  As far as all the boys having an instant attraction for her, believe me, it happens.  Isn’t the new girl (or boy) in town always a mystery?  When I moved from highschool to college, I found the same response in my male peers.  In high school, where most guys were ‘trained’ to only look at the elitist few who stood at the top of the food chain, in the university setting, the lines get blurred, and the rankings that once were soon crumble in a rubble pile of smoke and dust.  A new season, a new beginning.

And so it was the way for Isabella Swan as she entered into what would become a new experience of her life.  One that would come to prove irrevocable by her own free will of choice.  Hence, we return to the apple, the forbidden fruit.   It represents a choice we are all tested to make at some point in our lives  The ones we are repeatedly challenged against the earthly needs of our humanity.  In the end, we’re going to have to live with the choices we make for the rest of our lives.

More importantly, a story doesn’t need to be an epic, or be delivered to its audiences in epic proportions in order to be great.  Any narrative or dramatic literary work can easily revolve a simpler story line that touches a part of us that we can relate to in a large way.  It doesn’t need a flamboyant, elocutionary structure of literary bottle rockets and plot boosters. Some stories are simply character driven.  And with that style alone they tend to work so artistically well.  If it’s drawing readers in who seem to develop a stronghold connection to it, then it’s doing something right.

Why is it that we relate to vampires?  Why does the genre keep making a come back repeatedly?  Why are we always welcoming the folklore at our doorstep with open arms?  Perhaps because it is a form of fantasy/realism, where we see a world of creatures and imagine with serious consideration, our place in it.  We somehow feel a connection to vampires in that their origins are rooted in the human experience.  The cross over into the world of their immortality is but a bite away, sometimes offered, other times forced upon us.  They are lost souls who, although are very much in touch with their sexuality, lost touch with their humanness.  While others, like the Cullens struggle to keep what remains of this in their conscience, the last thread that binds them to the human path. 

But oh, are we not drawn to that physical prowess?  That speed and agility that seems so inexplicably impressive and awe-inspiring!  Humans are athletic and becoming increasingly so over time.  See for yourself as you watch the Olympic Games of the 1940s compared to those athletes showing skills today that are vastly superior by comparison now in this day, the twenty-first century. 

Let’s face it, and for a moment here, stretch our literary imaginations where it can touch the province of our own reality if only for a brief second.  Vampires are our cousins.  Twice removed; once by death and then by divine power they exercise through their speed and strength,  gifted to them in compensation, a small consolation prize for the life and the humanity that has been so cruelly taken from them.

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