Review: My Plain Jane

My Plain JaneCynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, My Plain Jane

***Warning: This review contains SPOILERS for Jane Eyre!***

In this fractured-fairytale take on Jane Eyre, Jane is a real person, and she and Charlotte Brontë are best friends. Also, she can see dead people: her other BFF, Helen Burns, is a ghost. Jane is currently a teacher at Lowood School, but her unique gifts bring her to the attention of Alexander Blackwood, the star agent of the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits. Alexander’s job is to find and capture ghosts who are causing trouble for humans, and Jane’s abilities will aid him in this task. But Jane inexplicably prefers to be a governess, and she sets off for Thornfield Hall, where she becomes entangled with a certain Edward Rochester. Charlotte, however, would love to become a member of the Society, despite her utter inability to see ghosts. So she teams up with Alexander to follow Jane, hoping to persuade her to join the Society. When they arrive at Thornfield, they soon realize that something is very wrong, but Jane might be too blinded by her feelings for Rochester to see it. . . .

I think this book was written for a very specific audience in mind, which is people who enjoy Jane Eyre but also realize that Mr. Rochester is a deeply flawed character. As one of those people, I found this book very enjoyable! Ghostly Helen Burns is a hilarious Greek chorus, pointing out Rochester’s inconsistent and manipulative behavior to Jane at every turn. For example, it’s pretty cruel of him to act like he’s going to marry Blanche Ingram just to make Jane jealous. He runs extremely hot and cold, sometimes focusing on Jane with special intensity and sometimes completely ignoring her. And then, of course, there’s the whole wife-in-the-attic thing, which this novel turns on its head, making Bertha Rochester a strong and sympathetic character. I also enjoyed Charlotte’s quest to become a member of the Society, as well as her budding romance with Alexander. It’s all a bit lightweight, and not something I necessarily feel a need to ever reread, but it’s great fun if you’re familiar with Jane Eyre.

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Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” So begins this novel about an ordinary boy in an extraordinary situation. When the sinister man Jack murders the boy’s family and comes after him, he manages to escape to the local graveyard and evade Jack for the time being. He is taken in by the ghostly inhabitants of the graveyard, who give him the name Nobody Owens. Bod grows up in the graveyard with certain abilities (such as Fading and Haunting) but certain limitations (such as not interacting with living people). He loves his family in the graveyard but is also curious about the outside world. The older Bod gets, the more he is drawn to the world of the living; but the man Jack is still looking for him, and he must confront many dangers before he can truly begin to live his life.

This book is a wonderfully atmospheric tale, perfect for a chilly autumn evening. Gaiman’s descriptions are evocative and often spooky, from the  menace of Jack and his associates to the slavering ghouls to the ancient power of the Sleer. Bod is a grave (pun intended) but likable child, and his adventures both in and out of the graveyard make for entertaining reading. I also loved Silas, Bod’s guardian, and I would have liked to know more about him. The ending is sad in some ways, but it feels absolutely right for the story. My only complaint is that this book is less substantial than Gaiman’s work for adults (Neverwhere is still my favorite), but I definitely enjoyed it nonetheless.