The lives of two teenage girls—one from present-day Brooklyn, the other from late 19th-century Paris—intersect in Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly's first YA novel in more than six years. Her earlier work of fiction for young adults, A Northern Light, was a Printz Honor book and won the Carnegie Medal in the U. K. Delacorte will publish Revolution in September with a 250,000-copy first printing.
Her new novel was long in the making. Its genesis dates back a decade, when a New York Times article grabbed Donnelly's attention— and refused to let go. Accompanied by a photo of a small human heart inside an old, etchedglass urn, the account revealed that DNA tests had just confirmed that the heart belonged to the son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who after his parents' executions remained imprisoned until he eventually went mad and died at the age of 10.
"The dauphin was heir to the throne and was considered a huge threat by the revolutionaries," says the author. "Since Robespierre couldn't order him to be executed, he let hunger, neglect, and disease do the job for him. The article really upset me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it and wondering how this awful thing could happen to a fragile, innocent child—how did the Revolution devolve into such cruelty?"
Though she "recognized that feeling I get when a book is starting up inside of me," Donnelly was facing deadlines for other books (she's also written adult novels The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose) and time passed. After her daughter was born six years ago, the cruel treatment of the young dauphin began to haunt her all the more.
The author reports that Revolution was the most difficult book she's ever written. "I struggled on many levels," she recalls. "Wrapping my head around the Revolution was very daunting. And the two characters [from the Revolutionary period and today] were warring for control of the book. I finally stepped back, surrendered, and gave the book to both of them. I discovered that I could combine both voices into a single cohesive narrative through the diary of the Revolution-era girl, which the contemporary girl finds."
Donnelly says, "I can't wait to reconnect with people in the YA world" at BEA. She'll have multiple chances: the author is participating in today's YA Authors Crossing Over panel, 11–11:50 a.m. at the Downtown Stage, as well as signing Revolution ARCs at the Random House Children's Books booth (4341), 1:30–2:30 p.m.