Plain Jane: When does being stuck become ... unstuck?
At nearly 16, Jane has lived in the shadow of her little sister Emma’s cancer diagnosis for over three years. Not that she was ever in the limelight; it is her sister who is the talented one, a dancer who at ten had been outgrowing her small town teachers’ skills. Jane had never resented her sister’s talent; without any interests herself, it had always kept the pressure off her.
Now though, with her parents struggling to cope financially and emotionally, Jane’s life in her rural mining village seems to be a never ending monotony of skipping school, long bus rides to the hospital and hanging out with a boyfriend she doesn’t even know why she is with. Nobody really cares that her life is stuck in neutral; she is finding it difficult to care herself ...
Ultimately, Jane begins to understand the real parts of her life that are good; her sister Emma's chances of recovery begin to improve and the two sisters try to rebuild the relationship they shared before the illness took over.
I really enjoyed Kim Hood’s first YA novel, Finding a Voice (reviewed here), and I enjoyed this one even more. Jane is 15 and her sister has had cancer for three years – years in which the family has suffered financially and emotionally. Jane loves her family and is loved by them, but her parents’ time is consumed by 13-year-old Emma’s illness and they largely leave Jane to fend for herself. Jane skips school a lot and no one really notices or cares, until she meets enigmatic, considerate Farley, who helps her start to get back on track.
The story is written beautifully. I love that it is from Jane’s perspective throughout and it is so easy to read yourself into Jane’s skin and mind. The chapters where Jane is on a downward spiral and her life is unravelling are, to my mind, flawless.
None of the characters is perfect, yet the reader is led to have sympathy with all of them, even the minor ones.
The relationships are really well drawn and the depiction of how they change – what Jane notices and how the reader can interpret that – is familiar and fascinating. The interactions between the sisters are at the same time simple and complex; Jane’s relationship with her boyfriend Dell and her dawning realisation of what they really mean to each other unfolds nicely through the book; her relationship with her best friend and the friends by default will sound familiar; her relationship with Farley is beautiful; her relationship with her parents and grandfather is awkward but, at least with her parents, is shown to be redeemable. There are other, minor relationships, all written believably, even within just a few sentences. The shift in the dynamics of all the relationships are superbly written.
I loved Farley – wise beyond his years, although he has troubles of his own. My only slight gripe with the book is that he absents himself from a crucial part of the story. I understand why, but I would have liked it better if he had played a part, even if it was from a distance.
The story takes place in Canada, where Jane lives in a small village and goes to school in a larger town. The setting adds background and colour, but the novel is very character driven and the environment, although important for how it affects Jane’s life, is easily imagined by a British or Irish reader.
Although this novel is categorised as YA, it is one that anyone from 13 upwards and onwards can enjoy and relate to. I am far from being a YA, but I never felt that I was reading a book aimed at a different target age range, although I can appreciate that young adults will take from it different messages from those I did. I can imagine this being a book that a teenager will read and come back to ten years down the line.
I loved this book – it is a more than worthy second book, which shows that author Kim Hood is set to stay on the literary scene, for which I am very glad, and I look forward very much to finding out what she has up her sleeve for future books.
Editorial Input & Design
This is a thoroughly professionally produced book, with just a couple of typos. The editing is invisible, just as it should be, and it is clearly Kim Hood’s ‘voice’ in the writing.
Cover: I like the cover – a rather hazy outline of a person – like others’ perception of Jane herself.
Internal design: I read the paperback. Perfect – very professional.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Book clubs I think it would make an excellent book club choice for a teenage book club, and even an adult one. There are plenty of strands to discuss: how a sibling can be sidelined when a brother or a sister is and has to be the centre of a family’s universe for a while and how easy it is to forget that other children need some attention too; the relationship between sisters; how the authorities let Jane down; the small-town mentality; disapproving parents; expectations on a child to the point of missing what it is they want.
What others are saying: Goodreads, 5 stars (7 ratings).
Buy & Author
Published by O’Brien Press, Dublin
O’Brien Press (paperback €8.99; ePub €6.99)
hive.co.uk (paperback £6.59; ePub £5.38)
Amazon (Kindle £5.99/$8.74; paperback £6.99)
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Links of interest:
‘Beyond the Debut Novel’ by Kim Hood
Disclosure: I requested this book for review from the publisher, O’Brien Press – with thanks to them for providing it.