Monday, April 16, 2007

Review: The Plain Janes

I've held off on reviewing The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, because it won't be released until May. But, seriously, enough is enough.

I hope that The Plain Janes will put to rest the endless (and fruitless) debate about whether or not graphic novels can be or are as good as "regular books." Because this one made me turn back and reread and reconsider as much as any great novel would.

(Main) Jane is a popular girl in Metro City. Then "something" happens in the big city--an explosion, or a bombing--and Jane falls in the streets. Nearby is a man with an "Art Saves" sketchbook, a book Jane rescues when she regains consciousness and returns home.

Jane's reaction to her city's crisis is different from her parents. Jane cuts off her blond hair, dyes it black, and sees in the mirror "a girl who can handle anything." Her parents pack up the home and move themselves with Jane to the suburbs. As Jane says, "Here we go. Nothing worse than starting the school year six weeks late. Remember it's just four years. Om, and all that."

Jane is a hard-headed kid and serious about changing her life. True, she can't move back to Metro City on her own, but she can take charge. When the "cool" girls make overtures to her in the dreaded cafeteria on day one, she decides to branch out. She seeks shelter with three other girls, who happen to be named Jane, Jayne, and Polly Jane.

Before long, Main Jane has convinced the other Janes to create P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods), a group formed to set up anonymous street art. Their first project--pyramids formed where a new strip mall was set to go up. They left a hand painted sign, stating, "Art Saves. THINK BIG. THINK P.L.A.I.N."

P.L.A.I.N gets everyone talking, but not always in a good way. Residents of Kent Waters.Suburbia fear the anonymous art installations. Soon the high school kids are on full lockdown, a lockdown that results in, of course, their growing closer together as a group.

The Plain Janes is a thought-provoking novel about fear in the modern age, the beauty and power of art, and the imagination and heart of youth. One thread I found particularly compelling concerned Main Jane's fascination with John Doe, the man with the "Art Saves" sketch book who fell next to her in Metro City. She continues to visit him in the hospital, to write him letters, to find a kindred spirit in the man with the "Art Saves" notebook.

Main Jane is a great heroine. She's determined, smart, and a dreamer. I hope we'll learn more about the other Janes in future volumes.

The Plain Janes is highly recommended for kids ages eleven and up.


Other blog reviews:

A Fuse #8 Production
Trusty Plinko Stick
The Broken Frontier (interview)

If I've missed your review, let me know...

While writing this review I heard of the Virginia Tech Shooting. I'm at a complete loss for words.