Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Very, very good. As in NORTHERN LIGHT, there is a "twinned" structure. The protagonist teenage-girl-with-a-problem has documents from another young woman in a similar situation. Here, Andi is a musical genius who was not watching out for her brother on the morning he was killed by a madman in Brooklyn. In the case of an old violin in France, she finds a diary of a girl Alexandrine who sent up fireworks in Paris during the French Revolution, trying to comfort the Dauphin, imprisoned in his cell, until he is killed (arguably, also by a madman). The coincidence of Andi going to Paris and being handed a violin case with a compartment that only opens to the key that her brother found in a scrap heap back in Brooklyn ... well, ... but so what. Donnelly writes so well, I feel like I'd be a nitpicking kill-joy if I were going to stick at that. One review I read felt that the second plot (Alexandrine's journal) was made to serve the first, but I felt Donnelly kept them in balance. There's always a risk when writers lean too heavily on letters or journals, but I was drawn along and compelled by Andi's conflicts/plots--her mind-numbing guilt about her brother, her mother's mental illness, her estrangement from her father, her romance with the hot French musician Virgil (!)--and because Donnelly doesn't insert the journal sections in big chunks, I usually felt I was in Andi's head while I was reading them. Thoroughly enjoyable.
This is a curious book. It mixes a somewhat typical YA theme--teen pregnancy--with a "magic" theme of the Elfin Knight who, in "Scarborough Fair," demands three impossible tasks. The villain/Elfin Knight has been enchanting all the women on Lucy's family tree for centuries, and he takes the shape of the handsome Padraig Seeley--who is so charismatic that women (including Lucy's foster mother) can barely think in his presence. Lucy's mother went mad because of him, and after Lucy is raped by a boy who is possessed by Padraig's spirit, she decides she is going to keep the baby. The difference is that Lucy has foster parents and a handsome boy named Zach who are willing to help her perform the three impossible tasks to break the curse--their true love matters. I can see this appealing to some YA readers, the same way Twilight does. But the "magic" element didn't really work for me. Werlin writes very well, however, enough to make me curious about finding her National Book Award Finalist, The Rules of Survival, and her Edgar-winner, The Killer's Cousin.