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Book review: 'My Plain Jane' gives the Bronte classic ghosts, snark and an honest look at Rochester


June 24, 2018

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"MY PLAIN JANE" — by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows, HarperCollins, 464 pages (f) (ages 13 and up)

After the success of "My Lady Jane," a comical retelling of the story of Jane Grey, best-selling young adult authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows (also known as the Lady Janies) are out to rewrite history again, this time taking on Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" in "My Plain Jane."

"My Plain Jane" tells the story of "Jane Eyre" as if the main character was a real person who attended the Lowood school for girls alongside Charlotte Bronte. Besides throwing the author into the story, "My Plain Jane" adds one other twist to the classic novel — Jane Eyre can see ghosts.

These ghosts include her deceased childhood best friend Helen Burns, whose ghost still follows Jane around though Jane is now 18 and looking to become a governess. Charlotte is Jane's living best friend who's always scribbling away in her notebook and looking for something exciting to write about.

Then one day, Alexander Blackfoot of the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits comes seeking Jane's skills as a ghost seer, and the three young people are thrown together in a wild, haunted adventure where things never seem to go as planned.

Once Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall with Mr. Rochester, there are several scenes in "My Plain Jane" that mimic famous moments in "Jane Eyre." Often, Jane's ghostly companion, Helen, offers a fresh, modern viewpoint on Mr. Rochester and how confusing, cruel and inappropriate his actions toward Jane can be — shining the light on the flaws of Jane and Mr. Rochester's relationship in a humorous way.

Despite sometimes mocking Bronte's book, "My Plain Jane" still manages to honor Bronte's genius and acknowledge that "Jane Eyre" is compelling, well-written and ahead of its time. Through Charlotte's character, readers are able to see what obstacles Bronte was up against in her life and how, through tenacity and intelligence, she was able to overcome them.

"My Plain Jane" carries on the Monty Python-like, tongue-in-cheek, anachronistic humor of its predecessor, and amps it up a notch with references to "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings," "Princess Bride" and, of course, "The Sixth Sense." There are even a couple implicit jabs at America's current president.

If there is a complaint it is that, just as with "My Lady Jane," the narrators of "My Plain Jane" can be heavy-handed in their comical asides, often pulling the reader abruptly out of the story, preventing a truly submersive read.

Regardless, "My Plain Jane" is a charming and fun read that Bronte fans will likely enjoy for its homage to and accurate analysis of a beloved classic through a modern lens. One can only hope it will turn many unfamiliar young readers into new Bronte devotees.

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