Revolution: Historical Fiction from Different Perspectives

RevolutionDonnelly, J. (2011). Revolution. New York: Ember.

Description: Revolution tells the story of two seventeen-year-old girls: Andi, a high school student from modern-day Brooklyn, and Alexandrine, a Parisian street performer from the time of the French Revolution.  Andi’s family is recovering from a terrible tragedy, and because Andi’s mental state is deteriorating, she takes a trip to Paris with her father. When Andi discovers Alexandrine’s diary, she finds herself enmeshed in the drama of the French Revolution and especially with the tragic fate of the young prince, Louis XVII. As she becomes more and more obsessed with Alexandrine’s diary, Andi’s present-day reality merges with the past until she can no longer distinguish between the two.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Level HL560L*, ATOS Level 3.9, Flesch-Kincaid Level 3.3

Lexile’s HL signifies “high-low,” meaning the book is appropriate for older students who may be struggling or reluctant readers.

Qualitative Reading Level: The text structure is complex, alternating between the present and the past, until eventually the two are indistinguishable. The reader is left to infer what is reality and what is meant to be symbolic or imagined. The story can be read as one girl’s sojourn into depression and obsessive behavior, or it can be read as a fantastic adventure back to a dramatic time in world history. Some themes will be familiar to young readers: This book explores what it is like to have parents who don’t understand you, and how it feels to fall in love with someone who comes from a different background. On the other hand, the violence, destitution, and political machinations described in the French Revolution segments will be outside of most young readers’ experiences. The vocabulary and sentence structures are fairly simple and will not pose a problem to most, but some readers may benefit from contextual information about the French Revolution.

Content Areas: English language arts and world history

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Compare Donnelly’s retelling to the version the New York Times reported: Geneticist’s Latest Probe: The Heart of the Dauphin
  • Identify the important themes of the novel, using textual evidence as support. Pay specific attention to the title and consider what “revolution” might mean for Andi, as well as Alexandrine.
  • Discuss Donnelly’s use of flashback and the melding of past and present. What is effective? What creates suspense? What unanswered questions are left for the reader to ponder?
  • From Random House Reader’s Guide:
    •  Read the short passage from Dante’s The Divine Comedy that Donnelly uses at the beginning of the novel. Interpret the passage as it applies to Andi Alpers’ life. What other characters in the novel are in a “dark forest”? Discuss why the pathway out of a dark forest is never straightforward. Trace Andi’s pathway out of her dark forest from Brooklyn to Paris, from the 18th century to the 21st century. Chart specific “roots” upon which she stumbles. What is the ray of light that eventually shines through Andi’s dark forest?
    • Discuss the difference between the humanities and science. How are the differences in these disciplines the basis of the arguments between G and Dr. Alpers? Dr. Alpers says, “A human heart isn’t made of stories.” G says, “Every heart is made of stories” (p. 71). Describe the Alpers family before Truman’s death. How does Dr. Alpers’s scientific mind keep him from understanding “matters of the heart” within his own family? How does he treat them like lab specimens?
  • Complete a mini-inquiry project researching different aspects of the French Revolution. Use the novel as a jumping off point for students to brainstorm questions about what happened. Use initial questions to group students with similar topics.
  • Read a factual summary of the events of the French Revolution. Compare the informational text to the fictional version told by Donnelly. Repeat the process after watching the Crash Course video: The French Revolution


  • Revolution Book Trailer (Jennifer Donnelly discusses her inspiration for the book.)

  • French Revolution Crash Course


An ABA Indies Choice Young Adult Book of the Year
An ALA-YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book
#1 Indiebound pick for fall 2010
A School Library Journal Best Book
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Book Best Book of the Year

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (Grades 9 – 10)

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

By the end of grade 9 (and 10), read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Common Core State Standards for History (Grades 9-10)

Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

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