Yes, I know that I'm not the first to review this book- nor will I be the last. I'm glad I'll have been able to dodge the rush to read this great book. It was as good as people claimed it to be. At the same time, however, it had certain flaws- more about them later.
Andi Alpers is a young woman attending the prestigious St. Anselm's Academy in Brooklyn. She's rumored to be brilliant, but she can't make herself care about schoolwork because of her brother's death a few years earlier. The only thing she can do is play music; she plays beautifully and wants to pursue a career with her guitar. To make a long, complicated story short, she ends up in Paris with her father, an esteemed geneticist who has been called to Paris to DNA-test a heart that's rumored to belong to a French prince, lost during the Revolution. In an old guitar case, she finds a diary telling the story.
Enough spoilers- on to mechanics! I had two major lines of thought about this book. One, it's written in a tone that perfectly captures all, effortlessly and magnificently. The writing is incredibly beautiful and elegant, no matter the subject or the context.
"' The Palais is a sad place now- the empty rooms gather dust and vagrants sleep under the trees-but once it was the very heart of Paris, a dazzling pleasure arcade of shops, card dens, restaurants, and brothels. It was a place where one could buy a glass of lemonade, or the girl selling it. A place to see an Amazon in naught but tiger skin. A place where a duchess might pass by, trailing furs and civet, and a beggar would show you his rotting wounds for a sou. A place where acrobats, all bosoms and bare legs, tumbled and jumped, and painted boys strolled, and quacks displayed dead monster babies with two heads and four arms in pickling jars.
How I loved it.'"Now for the unpleasant side of things. While the writing is beautiful, Andi's world sometimes isn't. St. Anselm's is lacking in reality and charm, posing as a caricature of every snobbish private school in every movie we've ever seen. Her best friend, Vijay Gupta, should have been left out of the book entirely. He is writing a thesis too, you see. He's brilliant and has incredible potential. Now, this is where things get downright whimsical. His thesis is so good, apparently, that "world leaders" are commenting on it in droves. Wait, what? Since when are private school students able to contact world leaders? Since when do world leaders casually comments on said students' writing pieces?
On the other side of the character spectrum is Virgil. A talented musician living in the dangerous Parisian suburbs, he's instantly believable and real. Constantly afraid of his environment, the gangs, the violence, he struggles to find a place for himself with his music.
Last thing: the use of the present tense in this book is distracting (as always) and annoying. It turns into a rancid kind of funny when she flips back 200 years into the past, but it would have been better in the past tense throughout.
I'll give this book a 4.5, only because of the distractions offered by Vijay and the present tense.
A delicious Italian salad, with mozzarella and tomatoes, drenched in pure olive oil and dark vinegar. Small bits of basil mar the texture and flavor, but not enough to offset the quality.