Jennifer Donnelly Rocks Our World....

Yes, we know A Reader's Respite has been a tad scarce lately.  But it is the holiday season and we all know what that means:  every person in America feels compelled to jump on an airplane and fly somewhere.  Which means that our day job is keeping us very, very busy.  And no matter how many times we make the announcement, "We thank you for your business," well, it's a lie.  A big one.

A Reader's Respite is, in fact, not very grateful for long airport security lines, overcrowded and delayed airplanes, and people creating their own little Tent City in the airport next to our gate.  Go home, please.  Go home and stay at home and be merry around your own hearth and tree.  Read a book.

In fact, here are two books that might spark your interest.  Jennifer Donnelly is perhaps best known for her historical fiction series, The Tea Rose Trilogy.  But did you know she also writes young adult historical fiction?  And she writes it very well.

Her most recent publication is a young adult novel called Revolution.  The story vacillates between present day and the days leading up to the French Revolution.  When  troubled teen Andi Alpers finds herself unwillingly whisked off to Paris with her father to sort out her angst-ridden life (you know it's fiction right there, when someone is unwillingly whisked off to Paris....), she unexpectedly uncovers an old diary written by a girl, Alexandrine, who is caught up in the Revolution of 1789.

Donnelly does an excellent job of bringing the Revolution to life, both for Andi and the reader.  It doesn't ever lose it's YA feel, however, although teens are likely to appreciate Donnelly's understanding of their angst.  Moments of humor in present-day Andi's life take the edge off of the tenseness of Alexandrine's diary and as the novel reaches it's climax, the lines between present day and the past become increasingly blurred.

We enjoyed Revolution enough to take note that Donnelly had written an earlier YA historical fiction novel, A Northern Light and of course, A Reader's Respite couldn't resist buying a copy.  While we merely enjoyed Revolution, we were blown away with A Northern Light, a novel which made the American Library Association's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults list.

Donnelly took the 1906 murder of Grace Brown in the Adirondack Mountains (a case that inspired Theodore Dreiser's classic An American Tragedy) and created full,  rich historical fiction with some of the most beautiful characters to grace the pages of a YA novel.

Grace's mysterious death provides the backbone for a plethora of fictional characters who leap to life.  Young Mattie, who desires nothing more than leaving this small northern town to pursue a college eduction (something that rural young women simply do not do in 1906).  Her family, her neighbors and friends are painted so vividly by Donnelly that at times it sweeps your breath away.  Mattie's choices - or seemingly lack thereof - are heartbreaking and oh, so real.

Unexpectedly, it is the death of young Grace that leads Mattie to the answers she needs and ultimately, will change her entire life.

Both novels are good reads and well worth your time, but in the end we recommend that you buy a copy of Revolution for your favorite teen and buy the copy of A Northern Light for yourself.

Happy reading.  And stay away from airports.

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