Friday, May 18, 2007
I just finished The Plain Janes, and I liked it. Main Jane, the character at the center of the story, is a sympathetic young girl recovering from a trauma that still has got her mother in its grip.
Main Jane embraces and propagates art as her route to normalcy and self-identity, and what struck me is that the writer, Cecil Castellucci, shows her journey as a meandering one. There's no straight road to recovery in the book; Main Jane has her good days and her bad ones, a nice bit of realism.
Main Jane's parents are hair-dressers, proto-typical city folk, and they have decided to flee the city after their daughter is nearly killed in a terror attack. The government's fear-based responses to the ongoing terror threats produce ripple effects that reach even the small town to which Jane's family has relocated.
The state's pervasive fear-reaction exerts pressure on the Janes' school: the way it's monitored and run changes for the worse. Any teen book worth its salt has got to get across that schools can both serve as arenas of adolescent self-discovery and stultifying penal servitude. The Plain Janes definitely nails this.
Main Jane and the other People Loving Art In Neighborhoods (P.L.A.I.N.) girls, Brain Jane, Theater Jane, and Sporty Jane, start out as the lunch-room outcasts, band together as neighborhood art pranksters, and end up as bona fide threats to the public order of the school and town. By the close of the book they're seen as role models and inspiring heroes.
The story-telling is easy-going, with Castellucci nicely deploying epistolary narration throughout the book. On the minus side of the ledger, the characterization of the supporting players was a bit on the thin side, and I was peeved that Main Jane's boy-interest got to pull the MacGuyver that brought to fruition the team's culminating, Kramer-esque work of very public art. Having said that, though, my reaction to the novel was overwhelmingly positive.
A single panel justified the price of the book, for me. Sporty Jane is consistently drawn with a low-key, though noticeable, Frida Kahlo-style uni-brow. The team's plan for their culminating act of public art requires them to operate under deep cover as normal teens enjoying a vapid New Year's Eve party.
During the prep for the big night, Main Jane does Sporty's hair, which leads to this priceless exchange: