Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Re Jane" by Patricia Park

Back in April, I read "Jane Eyre" for the first time, just in time for Charlotte Bronte's 200th birthday. This was even more well-timed than I had originally thought, as publishers have also been putting out some new Jane Eyre-inspired works. See also, "Reader, I Married Him" and "Jane Steele." "Re Jane" is the incarnation I chose to read, and it turned out to be an excellent choice.

Our Jane is half-Korean, half-American, living in Queens with her uncle and his family. She works in his uncle's store and is trying to figure out what to do after her post-college job falls through. Frustrated with her strict home life, she applies to and accepts a job as a nanny for Devon, the adopted Chinese daughter of two professors living in Brooklyn. Ed Farley, Devon's father, catches her attention. Through this job and ensuing developments leading to a trip to visit her extended family in South Korea, Jane discovers who she is, comes into her own, and decides what she wants from her life - much like the original Jane Eyre, though in a much more modern ending.

This book gave me so many conflicted feelings that I had a friend start reading it while I was still halfway through so I'd have someone with whom to discuss these feelings/rant. Devon's mom Beth is treated completely unfairly for much of the book. She is a feminist, women's studies-focused professor, and this is commonly a topic of derision throughout the book. The underlying feminism in "Jane Eyre" was what won me over on that novel, despite plotting and character issues, so to see the issue disparaged in a retelling was extraordinarily frustrating, and even felt downright disrespectful to the spirit of the original at times.

Directly opposite to the original, the characters in this book and their arcs eventually won me over. Jane here is naive, and young, and frustrating at times. Yet, she grows throughout the books, and because of her rough starting point, her growth feels both authentic and hard-earned. Her best friend Nina is strong, and independent, calling Jane on her nonsense. But most importantly, she also has real flaws. Like Rochester, Ed Farley's pretty lame. Devon is a well-drawn child, growing into a young adult with all the accompanying fits and growing pains. Unfortunately, the audiobook narrator here does a real disservice to Nina and Ed, giving them grossly exaggerated (probably made worse by my listening on double speed), stereotypical accents that distract from the story and their character development. So if that's a thing that will bother you, read this one in print.

Ultimately, the ending brought this up from a 2.5 star review to a really solid 4. Without spoiling the ending, I felt that it stayed true to the feminism inherent in "Jane Eyre," adapted to a modern age and new setting.

Verdict: Affirmed. Another great, gossipy summer read with deeper underlying themes. Stick with the characters, even when they're at their most frustrating.

"Re Jane" by Patricia Park, published May 5, 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books. Audio narration by Diana Bang, published May 5, 2015 by Penguin Audio.

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