Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of


by Jennifer Donnelly

read by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

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by Jennifer Donnelly

read by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

Review posted July 1, 2011.
Listening Library, 2010. 12 CDs. 15 hours, 4 minutes.
Starred Review
2011 Odyssey Honor Winner
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Other Teen Fiction

This book is incredible. One of those audiobooks that had me thinking about it all day long and eventually bringing the CDs into the house to finish listening.

I almost didn't make it through the first two CDs, since the book starts out very depressing. Andi Alpers' little brother Truman died two years ago, and Andi is convinced it's her fault. Her mother can't cope, but spends her time painting pictures of Truman. Her father walked out on them. The only thing that keeps the sadness at bay is Andi's antidepressants, but if she takes too many, she starts having hallucinations. Even her music can't keep the depression away for long.

Then Andi's Dad comes in and takes charge. He puts her mother in a psychiatric ward and makes Andi accompany him on a trip to Paris. He's a world-renowned geneticist, and his job is to find out if a preserved child's heart belonged to the Dauphin of France who was locked in a tower during the French Revolution.

While in Paris, in an old guitar case, Andi finds a hidden compartment and a diary written during the French Revolution by a girl who was companion to the Dauphin. The details of Andi's life are intricately parallel to the story in the diary. Meanwhile, she meets a French musician who seems to really care about her. But even weirder things begin to happen.

The plotting in this book is exquisite. There are resonances between the two plotlines on so many levels. It also doesn't hurt that the diary is read by another voice, with a beautiful French accent!

The reader only slowly discovers the full story of Truman's death and all that Andi is dealing with. Despite her prickly exterior, we come to care about her deeply.

This book is amazing. The craftsmanship is astonishing, in the weaving of the two plotlines alone. If you add to the mix how much research the author must have done, it's an incredible achievement. An interesting thing for me is that I had just seen an article on the Catacombs of Paris in National Geographic. The article talked about cataphiles who explore the tunnels and showed a picture of "The Beach," where parties happen. The article came out after the book, just a month before I read it. But the French musician Andi meets is a cataphile, and he takes Andi to a party at The Beach in the catacombs, described exactly like the picture. I was impressed that the author took such care with contemporary details, and have no doubt she was also careful about historical details.

Hmm. Now that I'm posting this review, I don't know where to put it. The diary is historical, but Andi's story is contemporary. There's a small paranormal element. It almost should be put in a class by itself as "Masterpieces." I think I'll put it in the "Contemporary" category, but be aware that there is much more to this book.

The whole time I was listening to this book, not only did it stick with me all day long, but I was telling everyone I worked with how incredible it was. I do recommend it in audio form, since listening to the French accent added a level of enjoyment for me. Teens and adults alike will find this book a work of art.