I laugh out loud. “No, I’m not.”
“No arguments, Andi. You’re coming to Paris and you’re taking your laptop with you. We’ll be there for three weeks. Plenty of time for you to work up an outline for your thesis.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? What about Mom? What do we do about her? Just leave her here by herself?”
“I’m checking your mother into a hospital,” he says.
I stare at him, too shocked to speak. (48)
Andi Alpers has been going crazy trying to deal with the death of her brother, her absentee father, and her emotionally distant mother, not to mention her quickly declining dismal performance at her private prep school. When Andi’s father receives word that she might end up getting expelled, he swoops in, ships her mother off to a mental institute, and basically forces Andi on a plane to go with him to Paris. Andi is able to negotiate with her father a compromise; finish an outline and introduction to her thesis, and she can go home early. Andi’s resolve to leave gets tested when she not only meets a guitarist who shares her passion, but also discovers a centuries old diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who worked in the palace during the French Revolution. These two girls might have more in common then Andi realizes when their lives intersect in a startling manner.
Full disclosure: There is a small element of time travel, which I don’t feel too bad revealing and I hope no one else counts it against me, but this is how it was explained to me. The time travel element is by no means the core of the novel, but I thought the minor details that were scattered throughout the novel came together cleanly by the end. Those minor details are scattered about the gorgeous cover, including the key on the spin, which plays an important role in the book. That’s a great touch that I’m sure has caught the attention of more than one reader. I wouldn’t classify the story as science fiction even with the time travel element, but then again I wouldn’t classify it as historical fiction either, even though some might consider it due to the diary. This is a solid modern-day tale that has a timeless quality because of its connections to the past.
The characterization is extremely well-developed. Readers are drawn into both Andi and Alex’s personality, understanding their motivations and convictions. Andi’s passion for music is evident from the beginning, and the fact that her thesis involves proving how a late seventeenth century composer influenced modern-day music is not something that I would have picked. But the musical history, influences, and pieces are explained in a manner that makes sense.
The parallels that could be drawn between Alex and Andi are multi-faceted, and the romances that develop for both characters are refreshingly subtle. I think it’s fairly obvious to readers that Alex has more than a passing fascination with the prince, just as Andi has more than a passing fascination towards Virgil, a boy she meets in Paris. Virgil is perfect for Andi at this time, because he’s willing to take things at her pace, but he also recognizes her pain and is not so willing to let her self-destructive tendencies take over. He is the one good thing in her life that serves as her anchor. Their love of music draws them together, just as the revolution draws Alex to the prince, and both relationships taken together shows love in its many forms.
I have to comment that I’m thrilled that Alex’s diary entries read like a diary, without an excessive amount of direct quotes. The present tense and jumping around the timeline makes it a little difficult to follow at times, but we don’t relate stories linearly in real life, so I’m willing to assume it was an attempt in authenticity. Readers view not only Alex’s “present”, but she also flashbacks to previous events, all while being presented as old diary entries. Plus, the presentation allows us to get Andi’s reactions to what she’s reading instantaneously, instead of waiting for the next chapter.
The details pull readers in and really set the scene for the action. It’s quite obvious that Donnelly has done her research here, describing everything from the sights and sounds of Paris to the smells of the catacombs. The fact that the centerpiece of Andi’s father’s research actually exists is fascinating. I’m not a history person, and I found myself understanding the complications and causes of the French Revolution. I felt like I was actually there, following in both Alex’s and Andi’s footsteps. Although the size of the book presents a daunting facade (weighing in at over 400 pages) readers who stick with it will be well rewarded.