Daily Archives: January 12, 2008

The Plain Janes


Just finished the first book for one of my 2 Reading Challenges this year. Cecil Castellucci’s The Plain Janes lets me cross off one title from my What’s in a Name? challenge list. So satisfying – the crossing off the list, and the book too, as it happens.

A few cool things about this read:

1) It is a finalist for a Cybils award in the Graphic Novel category.

2) It is a Minx book, the groovy imprint of DC Comics. (I feel super edgy just having the book lying next to me on my desk).

3) When I opened it up (fresh from my local library), a fortune fell out (To have peace is to increase fortune and longevity). I thought that was pretty fantastic, and it made me want to get a fortune in every book I read.

4) The book is cousin to Kiki Strike and Alice, I Think (2 of my favorites) – all about the perils of being an artsy (OK… nerdy) individual in high school, and the power of the right tribe to make those years bearable.

Jane and her parents are recent arrivals in suburbia. Jane is miserable, but her parents are relieved to escape the increased violence in Metro City, especially since Jane was hurt in one of the recent acts of violence. At first, Jane decides she’s not going to engage with anyone at Buzz Aldrin High. She just wants to be alone, because alone is easy and safe. Eventually, however, Jane finds a crew of other Janes, and through art, finds a way to connect with her new friends and the community she first disparaged.

Castellucci has produced a tight text, with conflicts that feel real and characters you believe in, and want to know more about. Jim Rugg’s graphics are clean and understated – a natural match for Castellucci’s story. And there’s quite a lot you could talk about in a YA book group with this title: what it means to be “cool”, art in everyday life, the importance of community and risk-taking.

True confessions: I was probably Brain Jane in High School (who’s kidding, I know I was Brain Jane because I took the Plain Jane Quiz to confirm). I wasn’t edgy or cool but if this book had been around in my torturous high school years, and some awesome librarian or bookseller had put it in my hands, I would have cheered and felt hopeful that maybe there was a place for me in the world beyond the cafeteria after all. I hope present-day brainiacs are lucky enough to meet all of the Janes.