revolution

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is a tour de force YA novel.  It's realistic fiction most of the way through, but with just enough historical fiction and fantasy to make it a somewhat genre-defying.  At its heart, though, it's a problem novel about a girl, Andi, who loses her 10-year-old brother Truman to a freak accident, loses her father to an affair, and then loses her mother to mental instability following her brother's death.  When her father institutionalizes her mother for treatment, he takes Andi with him to Paris where she is told to work on her senior thesis.  She's just motivated enough to do that, because the thesis is about music, and guitar playing is the only thing that makes her want to live.  She chugs anti-depressants at near suicidal levels, and yet this does not keep her from being suicidal.  Go figure.  Donnelly's descriptions of the raw grief at losing so much so irretrievably in a single year are all the more moving because they are understated, buried behind layers of Andi's defenses. 

Paris brings new friends, one a particularly beautiful boy, Virgil, who loves music as much as she does.  It also bring historical documents for her thesis and a chance discovery of the diary of a girl about her age who lived through the French Revolution.  Andi has no idea how intellectual she is to keep all of these curiosities spinning at once, and Donnelly mostly handles the multiple plot developments well, though it takes all 472 pages to do so.  The diary of the girl proves the most interesting document, and we read it along with Andi in its entirety.  In it, the girl Alex strives to save the neglected and dying child Louis-Charles, who would be king had the monarchy not just been overthrown.  Andi's loss of her brother Truman and Alex's ultimate inability to save the child king are parallel griefs.  The gruesomeness of revolutionary Paris is, in fact, not dissimilar from Andi's witnessing of her own brother's death.  And death, loss, the smell of sadness and desperation, all saturate the pages of this novel until very near the end, when the redemption is appropriately partial and imperfect.  And honest and real because of it partialness and imperfection.

This is a book of grief, about all the unexpected shards and fragments that must be woven together to recover from an immense, enormous, life-shattering set of losses.  This is the kind of healing that doesn't happen overnight, the kind that needs constant attention and falters readily, like a helpless creature fumbling to walk.  A few steps at a time are the best you can hope for, and if falling is not accompanied by breaking, as long as you're well enough to take more steps tomorrow, that's healing.

Best quotes:
"It was nice.  And weird.  And tender.  I'm not used to tender.  It's a fossil, that word.  Conditions changed and it died out.  Like the woolly mammoth.  It just couldn't live in the same world as dick box.  Ho dog.  Or wiener cousins." (p. 162) 

"I'm tired, so tired.  And weak.  And everything's fading.  But suddenly I'm laughing.  I can't help it.  Because I understand now.  I know what Alex wanted to tell me.  I know the answer.  I know how her diary ends.  Not with a smear of blood, not with death. [...] The world goes on, stupid and brutal, but I do not.  Can't you see?  do not." (p. 456)

and boy are my arms tired!

It's spring break, and I'm taking the opportunity to catch up on a zillion projects, from work to house to filing.  In the filing area, I consolidated two folders today of conference information, dating back to 2006.  And, just for kicks, I'm listing here all the conferences/places I have (mostly) flown to or (less often) driven to in the past 5 years.  I feel very lucky to have travel be part of my work, and when I look at this list it confirms for me why I'm not typically keen on adding extra travel...  Not listed here are little trips to Chicago to the Newberry library.  So I just flew in from 3 countries and 14 confererences, and boy are my arms tired!
  • Association of Library and Information Science Educators (ALISE), San Antonio, TX, Jan 2006.
  • Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America conference, Education and the Culture of Print, Madison, WI, Sept 2006.  [I don't seem to have the flyer for this one, but I'm in the book that got produced, so I know I was there.]
  • Children's Literature Association (ChLA), Newport News, VA, June 2007.  [This was part of a 2-week trek with Ben that involved living out of a tiny suitcase while tooling around the east coast, seeing some sites, visiting Elizabeth, and presenting my dissertation research at a wrap-up gathering for the Project Athena grant which funded my doctoral fellowship.]
  • Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP), Minneapolis, MN, July 2007.
  • ALISE, Philadelphia, PA, January 2008.  [This is the last one Ben went on with me before the onset of a long-term tailbone injury.  No fun. :( ]
  • ChLA, Bloomington-Normal, IL, June 2008.  [Close to home.  Nice.  I also went to Santa Fe, NM in May for fun.]
  • SHARP, Oxford, England, June 2008.  [Yes, two conferences in one month.  Yes, Oxford!!  I felt exactly like Ratty and Mole, sitting on the bank of the Thames watching people punting by.  Loved the solitude of walking out by the river and looking back at the spires.  It was the ultimate college town.]
  • The Culture of Print in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine, Madison, WI, Sept 2008.  [I skipped ALISE that year, unusually, though I can see a pattern: when there are biannual Print Culture conferences in Madison, I'm less likely to go to ALISE.]
  • A research trip to the Vassar Archives and the NYPL Archives, New York, funded by the Campus Research Board for my grant "Toward a History of Children as Readers" which became this paper, May 2009.  I'm counting it, because it was a ton o' work.
  • SHARP, Toronto, Canada (Oh Canada!), June 2009.  [Michael Jackson died while I was here, and watching the CBC reporting was just better.  Loved the shoe museum!]
  • American Library Association (ALA), Chicago, IL, July 2009.  [I won a spot on a juried Library History Round Table (LHRT) panel and that became a paper that was just published this month. I was also asked to present for an LRRT group on research in youth services.  The presentations were fine, but overall I'd call this trip disastrous to my stress levels, and I took 6 months off from travel.]
  • ALISE, Boston, MA, Jan 2010.  [First time Ben went with me since 2008.  Hooray!  Followed by a trip to MS in February that was scheduled too close and started a leg injury.  Followed by a trip to KY in March, but still the nagging leg injury.  Too much travel.]
  • On the Front Lines, Springfield, IL, March 2010.  [Then took six months off to deal with the nagging leg injury.  This no longer impedes my motion, but I have yet to regain full feeling in parts of my ankle and calf.  Nerve injuries typically take a year, the doctors say.  Still waiting...]
  • Library History Seminar XII, Madison, WI, Sep 2010.  [I love Madison.  Caught up with Andy and had dinner with Dipesh and his family, little knowing that it would lead to his giving the Gryphon award talk this year.]
  • ALISE, San Diego, CA, January 2010.  [A fine poster thanks to Cope.  Also included were the best burritos ever from El Zarape (Rick was right!), watching the gorgeous sunset and itty bitty surfers with Ben at Sunset Cliffs, amazing oysters at a beachside pho bar, and a salad in the Houston Airport that triggered food poisoning for about 2 weeks.  But San Diego in January was such sweet relief from an unusually brutal Illinois winter.  Totally worth it.]

There you go.  Fifteen work-related trips, five years, and one tired but well-traveled tenure-track assistant professor.  Now signing off to resume my regularly scheduled spring break, one file more organized than before. :)