Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Listening Library, 2010 (print version available from Delacourte Books for Young Readers)
Narrators: Emily Janice Card (Andi) and Emma Bering (Alex)
Andi is spiraling down. It's been two years since the death of her brother, which she blames on herself, and her mother is slowly losing her mind. Andi is constantly fantasizing about her own death, imagining the one step she could take to end all the pain. She tries to use her music to forget, but she can't play her guitar forever, try as she might. She doesn't even want to attempt to graduate. But her father, who is more concerned with her going to a good school (not for music) than with her as a person, drags her along to Paris with him when he goes for work.
Though sullen at first, Andi eventually finds the diary of a girl named Alexandrine Paradis, who wrote during the thick of the French Revolution and took constant risks for the benefit of one small boy locked away in a tower. Told as a story within a story, we see Andi's trials in modern-day Paris and those of Alex, and how they weave together against all odds.
So, first things first. I listened to this on CD, so my experience is probably very different from that of the person who just read the book. I was instantly put off by Andi's voice and Emily Janice Card's narration; Andi seemed over-the-top angsty, even for someone as grief-stricken as she is. I was annoyed, frankly, which sounds cold, but it's true. I was also distracted by Card's English accent when she narrated for Nick, a minor character in the beginning. This was all I could think of (skip to 2:30). That said, Card did have some wonderfully performed sections, most notably when Andi is in the deepest part of her grief and it starts to consume her.
However, once I got over that, I started to really like the story and how the two girls' lives fit together. There is so much history in here, so much I never learned about the French Revolution. Oh yeah, and about music. There is a lot of music in here, as Andi is very serious about it. I do wish there had been a note in the audio somewhere (not sure if there was one in the actual book) about how the composer (Malerbeaux? No idea how to spell it since I only heard it) is fictional. I found that out later in a Publisher's Weekly review.
My favorite parts were Alex's. Bering does an excellent job at her narration, even if I thought she sounded a bit too old at first. Her accent adds much to the performance (she's French, so I'm assuming it's real), and her characterizations are distinct and incredibly fitting for each person to whom she gives a voice.
And let's talk about Virgil for a moment. He is just awesome. So cool, and so incredibly intelligent about music and life. Plus he's the only person who could penetrate Andi and get to the heart of her. I must admit, Card's French accent is excellent as well, and she puts it to good use with Virgil (pronounced "Veer-zheel" in the recording) and the other French characters.
At times the narration seemed to drag a bit, and I felt like the book could have been shorter—I wouldn't have minded one less CD. But I enjoyed listening to this for the most part, aside from the gripes I mentioned above. If you don't think you have the time to sit down and actually read this, it would be worth getting the audio version and listening to it on your commute (or wherever else you listen to audiobooks).
Disclosure: I got this audiobook on CD from my local library.