Publication Date: April 11th 2016
Publisher: The O'Brein Press
Pages: 304 pages
I've reviewed Kim Hood's first book Finding a Voice last year and I wasn't too crazy about it. I thought the topic was amazing and important, but the writing just didn't go in depth enough for me to really connect with the characters. With Plain Jane, Hood tackles other important topics, physical and mental health, but this time the writing makes it incredibly easy to connect to all the characters.
As the title suggest, Jane feels like she's plain and nothing special. Her younger sister Emma has cancer and all the focus is constantly on her and her treatment. While Emma is practically famous in their small Irish town, Jane wants nothing more than to explore more than the live she's living right now. With practically no parental help, Jane has to figure out if she really does like her boyfriend, how she can achieve more than her classmates and she also has to try to keep her more and more confusing thoughts in check.
Though Jane thinks she's plain, very early on in the narration the reader gets the idea that Jane's thoughts aren't that usual. Hood subtly weaves in more and more doubt in the reader's mind about Jane's mental health and about the way she observes things. Though first person narration is often considered inferior (even though I love it), in this book it works perfectly. We see what Jane sees and hear what Jane hears... or thinks she sees and hears. The unreliability of the main character is one of the biggest strength of this story.
I also love that the focus of this story is on Jane and not Emma. Though we are introduced to Emma's cancer struggles, it is never the main focus of the story. It's all about how the cancer influences Jane and how it switches the focus on how everyone is so distracted by Emma that Jane flies under the radar and is a 15 year old living with the freedoms of a college student. This obviously plays a huge part in her development and, also new for YA, the parents are never blamed for it. They really try to be there for Jane, but it's virtually impossible for them. For once, the fact that the parents don't play a direct role in the story is normal and explained instead of a mystery.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Plain Jane. I think at times, I still would have liked more depth in the story and for the whole plot to be slowed down. Certain elements are still rushed, but I really related to Jane and I loved reading this story. There are important topics in here, but it doesn't read like a mental and physical health instruction booklet - it's just a great story that sticks with you after you've finished it.