My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Plain Jane cover imageSummary: Jane Eyre meets Sixth Sense, “I see dead people.”

I like the concept of remixes or retellings of classic stories. The very nature of a well known story means that you can retell it by changing the perspective or the gender of the characters and you can easily have a cultural commentary or additional humor, or simply get to hint at part of the story to reference ideas without fully developing them in ways that is not possible for a completely original story.

That being said, I came into My Plain Jane having just finished My Lady Jane and I had a set of expectations that were not met. I thought I knew what to expect and the books are just different. My unmet expectations created a hurtle that I would not have had, if I had started with Plain Jane. But I had to get over my expectations of what the book was going to be. My Lady Jane was a historical figure that was generally told accurately, but with the addition of shape shifting magic (into animals).

My Plain Jane is riffing off of Jane Eyre, which is a fictional story. I read Jane Eyre just over a year ago, the story is fairly fresh in my mind. This is a bit of a spoiler, but My Plain Jane alternates telling the story from several perspectives. Charlotte Bronte is a teen, almost finished with her boarding school. Her real life best friend is Jane Eyre, a barely older orphan who was also at the school but now is a teacher. Charlotte is always writing and Jane is always painting or drawing; they do not have a lot of friends at the school outside of one another.

The main story really starts when Jane sneaks off to a local pub because she hears that a somewhat secret organization, Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits will be there. That organization is an early Ghostbusters society. In this story, people who have briefly died and come back to life can see ghosts. The Society is mostly made up of people who can see ghosts and they go around the country helping to remove problem ghosts. Jane can see ghosts and one of her best friends, Helen, is a ghost. One of the tension points is that Jane wants to keep secret her ability to see ghosts because she is afraid of what people will think if they know she can see ghosts.

One of the lead investigators of the society is Alexander Blackwood. He realizes that Jane can see ghosts because he can see ghosts. The society needs more ghost hunters so he pursues Jane Eyre trying to hire her for the Society. But Jane is somewhat traumatized by her visit to the pub and the way that Mr Blackwood captured the ghost. She is afraid that Helen will be captured as well. So Jane accepts a job working for Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall to get away from Mr Blackwood. However, Charlotte Bronte’s greatest wish is to work for the Society, so she worms her way into the society by promising that she can convince Jane to join. Mr Blackwood and Charlotte (and her hapless brother who has secretly dropped out of school to be Mr Blackwood’s assistant) go to Thornfield Hall, highjinks ensue.

My Plain Jane broadly follows the layout of Jane Eyre but some of the plot points are reexplained by ghosts. There are plenty of current pop cultural references, like,

“Go home, Miss Brontë.”
“I can’t afford any more delays, Miss Brontë.”
“Please stop talking, Miss Brontë.”
Nevertheless, she persisted.

But the humor just wasn’t really as good. There were funny moments. Some of the pop culture references were well done. Yes, we know that Jane Eyre was young enough to be Mr Rochester’s daughter, we understand as a modern reader that this is creepy. But the best parts of the book were not the retelling of Jane Eyre, it was the ghostbuster/scooby-doo “solve the mystery” parts. And that made the project as a whole less successful than My Lady Jane.

I was irritated that the Christianity of Jane Eyre’s motivations has been stripped from the book. Her kindness to her aunt and the forgiveness she gave her was explicitly tied to faith. But here there is not really any motivation for it here. In other places as well, the motivations for actions did not really make much sense. This leaves us with lines like, “I have a thing for Rochester,” confessed Jane. “It’s not healthy.” Because in the modern sense there is no reason for Jane to fall in love with Mr Rochester and so it is oriented around unhealthy reasons for her to do so.

I checked out the audiobook from my library. It was fine. But it was not a great book and less successful than My Lady Jane. There is a third book in the series but My Plain Jane has not made me interested in picking it up anytime soon.

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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