Summary: Privileged Andi is on a fast train to suicide after her little brother's accidental death has wrecked her family and left her shattered. After her mother is hospitalized for severe depression, her scientist father forced her to accompany him to Paris where a historian friend wants him to analyze a preserved heart that may belong to Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who was murdered during the French Revolution. While along for the ride, Andi finds that the key she keeps as a memento of her brother opens a locked guitar containing a diary written by Alex, a girl who lived during the French Revolution and was a paid companion of Louis-Charles before and during the royal family's imprisonment. Andi grows increasingly obsessed with the diary and also falls in love with a talented French-Tunisian singer/songwriter even as she struggles to leave Paris early and get back to her mother. The story culminates in one night when the past and the present overlap and Andi is catapulted back into the eighteenth century to walk in Alex's footsteps.
Verdict: Did my summary make this book sound like a complete over-the-top mess? That's because IT IS. Contrived and based entirely on coincidences and an unexplained instance of time travel, it skirts major issues like character growth and family dynamics in favor of the most far-fetched story ever.
Yay!: The concept is amazing, and I was excited to start this book. The ultimate message is a good one, and readers who don't know a lot of background on the French Revolution will learn some history.
Nay!: INCOMING SPOILERS Sigh. Andi. Okay, severe depression over her brother's death? Understandable, including the suicidal thoughts. Addiction to antidepressants? Okay. Guilt over her brother's death? Also okay. In fact, it's not entirely unwarranted. Usually in cases like this, the author later reveals the story of the tragic death and we find out that the hero or heroine wasn't responsible at all. But here? She didn't cause her little brother's death, but if she hadn't blown off her responsibility to him so she could go get high and hook up with a loser, she probably could have kept him safe. It's true. Luckily, I'd given up on liking her LONG before the book got to that revelation. Her depression may be understandable, but she's still a spoiled brat. Her family is rich, she attends a prestigious school and has all manner of options, her brother died tragically, but it's all about her. She moans about how SHE is depressed, SHE doesn't think her parents are handling things correctly, SHE feels so guilty...She never really thinks about how much she misses her brother or how much she loves him. She sees a picture of Louis-Charles and is obsessed because he looks exactly like her brother (no, they don't turn out to be related), but she never passes a kid on the street and thinks, "Hey, he reminds me of Truman, gosh I miss him." She's just hateful and awful to everyone. She takes everything she has for granted. Her only redeeming quality is that she's apparently musically gifted, which doesn't come through well in a book because you can't hear it!
It takes forever for her to find the diary, the exciting part, and when she does, it's a pretty big letdown. It's the story of a girl who was also completely self-centered, but who does finally grow up a little before she's yanked out of the story. But still, she isn't a very sympathetic character. She's just interested in using the dauphin to gain the queen's favor. Also, the diary isn't a diary, really. It's not written as things happen, but in retrospect and out of order.
The parallels between the heroines were superficial and annoying: they're both self-centered girls with boy names who lose a little boy they took for granted. That's about it. And the story from the diary makes up very little of the book, surprisingly. It also ends up less interesting than Andi's relationship with her father or her grieving mother, but these issues get tabled in favor of time travel.
Yup, time travel. Apparently the universe DOES revolve around Andi, at least enough to bend the rules of physics for her. And it's the bump on the head, Wizard of Oz, was it all a dream? kind of magic, too. Andi goes back in time somehow, meets the composer she's been writing about (what a coincidence!), has to become Alex who she magically resembles, learns enough to gain international acclaim when she gets back and "solves the mystery" of the composer's origin in her high school thesis (he told her), and doesn't do anything important except shoot off fireworks and fail to save anyone. Hoorah.
Then everything wraps up in a neat tidy package of happy! Grrrr.
Cosmetic: The blurb sells the book well, and the cover image is perfect, Andi and Alex back to back (although in the story, they're both less pretty and more boyish), connected by the red ribbon across their throats, which survivors of guillotined loved ones wore to symbolized the cut throats of the deceased, and on the spine, the key Truman found that belonged to Alex and ultimately brings them all together. Oh yeah...she never explains how she wound up with the key in NYC. MORE COINCIDENCE.