Review of My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

My Plain Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2018. 450 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2018, based on a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Teen Speculative Fiction

Oh, I loved this book! Now this might be a good place to mention: Just because I loved this book, just because it made me laugh and smile – doesn’t mean I think it’s the most distinguished children’s literature of the year. (My disclaimer doesn’t mean I don’t think that either.) I’m writing this review before I have discussed the book with anyone, when I am simply full of how much just plain fun this book was to read.

Yes, this book reminded me very much of the authors’ earlier offering, My Lady Jane, which I also loved. Even though the premise was completely different. Okay, the authors were still purporting to tell the true story of something from England’s history – with a dose of magic, but the magic was quite different in this case. And the thing from history was the writing of a novel – Jane Eyre.

I recently read a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, Brightly Burning, and in the age of the #MeToo movement, I’m a little disappointed with myself that I still find the story of Jane Eyre romantic. This book was not afraid to point out all the many ways Mr. Rochester was a totally inappropriate predator – so that eased my discomfort and made for a very satisfying story. (There were even extenuating circumstances!)

The story opens with Jane Eyre – and her friend Charlotte Bronte – as poor teachers at Lowood school. The evil Mr. Brocklehurst has just died (poisoned?). But there is a difference, besides Charlotte Bronte being on the scene. (This is how she got the idea, you see.) Jane is able to see and talk with ghosts. In fact her friend the sainted Helen Burns, who dies in the book, indeed died at Lowood, but now is Jane’s constant companion and beloved advisor.

The main plot of the book revolves around the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, in fact. Alexander Bell, the star agent of the society, learns that Jane has this gift as a seer, and tries to recruit her to join the society. But she doesn’t want to leave Thornfield and its fascinating master.

Charlotte, however, is more than eager to join the Society. Too bad she can’t see ghosts like her bumbling brother Branwell can. Antics ensue.

But the most fun part of this book is the commentary that ghost Helen Burns provides to Mr. Rochester’s inappropriate actions. I love that she notices that they’re inappropriate. (So do the narrators, for that matter.) There’s a different story behind the wife in the attic in this version, and I just love the way it all works out.

Great fun, earnest people trying to do good, lots of ghosts, and even some romance – much more satisfying than the original. We also see how Charlotte got the idea for her book!

Distinguished? I’ll let you judge for yourself. The plot is maybe not terribly likely. But this book unquestionably is a whole lot of fun and highly recommended and perhaps one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read this year.

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