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  New York Times Review

FOR an industry supposedly in decline, book publishing still offers welcome surprises. Years ago, anyone who admitted to writing young adult books - more likely, "books for teens" - at a cocktail party would be faced with a blank look. "Are you ever going to write a real novel?" was the common response. But ever since the success of books as different as Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak" (1999), a grittily realistic portrait of sexual violence in high school, and "Twilight," it's become clear that writers have at least as much freedom in Y.A. books as they do in adult fiction, as well as an audience that is loyal, smart and self-renewing. Sherman Alexie, Nick Hornby, Jane Smiley and Oscar Hijuelos write for young people now, and if they see fit to mention it at a party, they are likely to hear, "How can I get into that?" All the attention means that the "big book" has arrived in Y.A.: the high-profile title that publishers clamor over every season, on whose fortunes their balance sheets may turn. It can be more or less literary, but it must be attention-getting. Two candidates this fall are Jennifer Donnelly's "Revolution" and "Halo," by Alexandra Adornetto. Heavily promoted as the new novel from the author of "A Northern Light" (an award-winning historical fiction-dictionary mash-up set in 1906), "Revolution" starts in the present day. Andi Alpers, a teenage guitar prodigy with mental-health issues, hangs out with her privileged peers (Brooklyn's "bored-oisie") before going on a supernatural adventure in France, where she falls for a fellow outsider. Paris's rich and romantic past is promised, but the novel's present has up-to-the-nanosecond touches of invention that distract. Students throw weekly booze- and pot-filled parties in the morning before classes at their tony Brooklyn Heights private school. (In the morning? Really?) Donnelly also has a Wikipedia-like command of pop music, in one four-page stretch mentioning Nirvana, Elliott Smith, Nada Surf, Green Day, Jack White, Jeff Buckley, Simon and Garfunkel, and Lil Wayne. This strategy is enabled by legal language at the start of the novel: "All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author's imagination." (Lil Wayne, you made it!) It is as if Donnelly wants the freedom to invent a world as she does in "A Northern Light," but feels compelled to stay culturally factual to preserve relevance with her young readers. When she relies on music references to add weight to scenes, she reminds us that the here and now is fleeting. Luckily she has genuine heart. When Andi Alpers travels to Paris with her world-famous but distant geneticist father (a member of the bad-dad Brooklyn tribe led by Bernard Berkman from "The Squid and the Whale"), she meets Virgil Walid Boukadida, an older French-Tunisian cab driver and hip-hop artist, and their romance ignites the novel's hottest thread. What is a little curious is that key scenes between the two take place on the phone - couldn't Virgil drive to see Andi? "Twilight" perplexes many readers by the way it repeats physical description of a love interest whenever that love interest is encountered, but the heightened awareness of another person is one of the most thrilling aspects of being a teenager. It loses something over the airwaves. By the time Andi and Virgil get to know each another, Andi is deep into the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl who grew up in Paris during the French Revolution and entertained a child prince who bears an eerie resemblance to Andi's dead younger brother. As "A Northern Light" was structured with the protagonist learning the meaning of words like "fractious" and "saltant" in each chapter, the act of reading itself becomes a concern in "Revolution." The reader caroms between Alexandrine's diary and Andi's breathless devouring of it; "I turn the page," Andi reports. Although we are reminded of the transformative power of reading, one wishes for a direct dispatch from the arena. "REVOLUTION" feels at times like historical fiction dragged into the present, intent on proving itself as up to date even as its protagonist compares the vapidity of today with the purity of the past. It is a pleasure to imagine what an 18th-century guitarist might say upon hearing Led Zeppelin ("Monsieur Zeppelin's guitar is powered by lightning?"), but coming on the heels of so many other references, it makes the book seem more anxious for our approval than it needs to be. This is made more frustrating by the fact that when Donnelly drops the real bands and invents her own music, she sounds as if she knows what she's talking about. Virgil, who lives in the dangerous banlieue projects outside Paris, declares: "Hey ho Banloser / Call me robber, boozer / And substance abuser," as Andi gulps Qwellify, an antidepressant that appears in the book even more than Radiohead. Certainly other writers have stuffed novels full of references, real or fake ("Less Than Zero" comes to mind, in which song lyrics are credited). But "Revolution" feels less like the big book it could have been and more like a text for those wishing to learn about 18th-century French history and 21st-century popular culture. "HALO," has already been announced as the first novel in a trilogy, and is aiming to be not just big but "Twilight" big. Fairly summarized as "'Twilight' with angels," it concerns itself with Bethany Church, an angel incarnated as a teenage girl, who arrives in the town of Venus Cove, Australia, to "perform good deeds, acts of charity and kindness." Bethany soon falls for a tan, sensitive jock, Xavier Woods, and must defy her angelic siblings as well as confront an evil transfer student to win Xavier's love. Alexandra Adornetto, who is 18, is an occasionally good writer: a limousine looks like an "alien spaceship"; the brains at Bethany's school "walk with a missionary zeal, heads down, eager to reach the sanctity of the library." Her dialogue feels fresh and real, pulled from the mouths of her peers without any cultural markers necessary to prove relevance. She is sometimes funny; when Bethany and her celestial kin meet a young boy, they greet him but forget to smile, and by the time they remember how, he has run away. "Having a physical body was still foreign to us," Bethany explains. One can picture Adornetto's readers nodding in agreement. Unfortunately, essential fictional machinery is not present in "Halo." Bethany has skin that glows in the dark, but this goes unnoticed by anyone in the novel's many nighttime scenes. Although Bethany understands human culture well enough for homework to be "drop-dead easy," she does not understand that drinking alcohol results in inebriation. She slips into embarrassing mawkishness: "I was beginning to think I couldn't envisage an existence without Xavier." Still, it seems unfair to criticize Adornetto, a self-identified bibliophile who stacks her books "in wobbly piles on my bedroom floor" according to her author's bio. If it were not for young adult readers like her, the Y.A. boom never would have happened and publishing would be much gloomier. At one point Bethany Church stares in the mirror and notes that she has "a look of restless curiosity no matter how hard I tried to look worldly." In Y.A., it is hard to fault anyone for that. Ned Vizzini is the author of "It's Kind of a Funny Story," now a feature film, as well as two other young adult books.

  Booklist Review

Angel Bethany Church and her heavenly siblings Gabriel (yes, that one) and Ivy have been sent to a small town on a vague goodwill mission. Bethany's territory is high school, where she tries to blend in despite her ethereal glow and blissful naïveté. Soon she is swept up into a chaste romance with impossibly good boy Xavier Woods while being tempted by a potential demon, Jake Thorn. Jake shows his horns by engineering the suicide of Bethany's classmate, and the forces of heaven and hell predictably clash. But when Bethany's and Xavier's lips meet in a kiss of true love, Jake is flung back to hell. The 17-year-old author's angel mythology is solid, though her self-conscious writing often lapses into cliché, and her plotline follows a path that has been well trod post-Twilight. Still, there never seem to be enough lengthy tomes to satisfy the legions of paranormal-romance fans, and this first title of a planned trilogy fits the bill. For readers who have had enough supernatural star-crossing, recommend A. M. Jenkins' superior Printz Honor Book, Repossessed (2007) instead.--Hubert, Jennifer Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Twilight comparisons. The second half finally brings tension when manipulative transfer student Jake Thorn begins recruiting classmates to the dark side. Although the angels thwart Jake in a trite battle of forces, an open ending leaves room for his return. Readers who want to avoid flat, stereotyped characters should end here. (Paranormal romance. YA)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
<p>Three angels are sent down to bring good to the world: Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, a teenage girl who is the least experienced of the trio. But she is the most human, and when she is romantically drawn to a mortal boy, the angels fear she will not be strong enough to save anyone--especially herself--from the Dark Forces.<br> Is love a great enough power against evil?</p>
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