Mary: Do you want to introduce?
Emily: Sure. So My Plain Jane is the second novel in a series called “The Lady Janies,” written by three YA authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. But the cool thing (to me) about this series is that they are all different stories about different “historical” figures named Jane. So unlike Three Dark Crowns (which is far too much of a commitment for me), you can read this one without having read the first one. The first novel in the series My Lady Jane (which I haven’t read) is about Lady Jane Grey. This one is about Jane Eyre, the fictional character from the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre. When I heard about this book, I was 100% on board and knew I wanted to read it. And that was before I learned about the ghost hunting plot.
So here’s a plot rundown for those of you who have not read the book. This novel retells the story of Jane Eyre in which Jane was a real person who Charlotte Brontë met when they were in school together (at Lowood). One cool thing about Jane that Charlotte neglected to mention in her retelling of her friend’s story is that Jane can see ghosts. And there are ghost hunters who want to recruit her to work with them. They’re basically Victorian Ghostbusters, but there’s no Bill Murray, which is always sad. Anyway, what did you think of this book Mary? I just talked a lot.
Mary: Yeah! I know you were really excited about this book and, as per usual, I didn’t read or look at anything about it, so I went in blind. I was kind of surprised that Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë were existing in the same world, but I was willing to go along with it and see how it went. That being said, I’m sad to say I didn’t really get into this book for some very specific reasons. Mainly, the combination of three authors into one voice was kind of clunky for me at times--or maybe the tone they were trying to write in felt awkward to me. I think they were trying to go for a very Victorian thing where there were lots of authorial, narrator type intrusions. So the narrator (who they openly say is more than one person at one point) kept popping in to address the reader directly. Sometimes that felt pretty standard Victorian to me, but other times they weaved in contemporary politics in a way that felt forced to me. The tone just really got to me, really. I’m also 100% that person who gets irritated when adaptations diverge from source material (except in Annihilation, which is great), so that is something I’m aware of when thinking about my take on the book.
What did you think about the tone, or the way it was trying to go for a Victorian vibe?
Emily: I see what you’re saying about the narration having a sort of Victorian vibe while also being modern. I actually really enjoyed how off-kilter it was. I’m curious about the tone of the other book now, and I’ll probably try to read it at some point. I can definitely see how someone who really loves Jane Eyre would be pretty pissed about this adaptation though, especially because of the way it breaks down the romanticization of Rochester and his relationship with Jane. I want to talk about that for sure.
Mary: YES YES YES. Please go on!
Emily: Well, okay. I do like Jane Eyre a lot, but I never got the love for Rochester because he’s creepy AF and says really weird shit to Jane all the time and also she’s a looooooot younger than he is. So I actually kind of enjoyed that they were like, “Yeah, this is ridiculous.” I understand why Charlotte Bronte wrote it the way she did; she had a crush on her boss man when she was a governess. So she wrote their story with a happy ending. Sorry, I know that’s extremely reductive. And I know what you’re thinking, “But Emily, you love Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and he is SUPER fucked up.” And yeah, absolutely that’s true, but the thing about Heathcliff is everyone knows he’s fucked up. I think sometimes we forget that ROCHESTER LOCKED HIS WIFE IN THE ATTIC, GUYS.
Mary: YES! I have major issues with Rochester, for many reasons, but not leastly because he threatens to rape her at one point. It just all seems weird to me. I don’t love how romanticized his relationship is with Jane in the original text, but I also don’t like how the reality of My Plane Jane is that he’s happily married and just POSSESSED BY A GHOST. It just seems wild. It feels like ghosts were an explanation for lots of weird things going on in the original text, and it seemed cheap to me? I’m not sure. There was also a lot of weird Rochester family drama going on--and it got SLIGHTLY confusing to me. The Victorian ghostbusting stuff was pretty great though, I gotta admit. I don’t know that I felt particularly attached to Alexander (who Charlotte had a super crush on and eventually gets with), but I like the mechanics of the Society.
Emily: Yeah, I definitely hate how all YA has to have a corny love story at the center of it. Like pretty much all YA does that. The love story between Alexander and Charlotte felt shoved in there. I also don’t know how accurate the portrayals of Charlotte and Branwell were.
Mary: I’m not sure how accurate they are, and though I don’t think it matters to everyone, it definitely matters to me.
Emily: Yeah, I just wish that part, the part based on real people, had been slightly more researched. And for a series that is supposed to be historical, it seems like something these three should invest in doing.
Mary: I mean, we definitely know they weren’t ghostbusters. Hahahaha! But also, I think the real-people aspect just makes it too many things going on at one time. There’s a retelling of Jane Eyre, there’s a sort of Ghostbusting thing happening, and then there’s also real people in the novel. It’s a lot, just a LOT going on, and it was too much for me. It kind of reminds me of when American Horror Story tried to do Nazis and aliens and a mental institution and nuns and demons. It’s too much guys, reign it in. It was hard for me to get past all that.
Emily: I don’t know. I still really enjoyed it. I thought it was fun. I liked the idea of all of these things happening in part because of ghosts. I think we need more ghosts in our literature more of the time. Great Expectations should have more ghosts. The Great Gatsby could be better with a ghost or two. What if the ghost of Myrtle just popped up at the end? OMG IS THAT WHO MOANING MYRTLE IS? I’m starting that fanfic right now.
Mary: YES PLS. Please write this fic. It’s your duty now, basically. It’s hard for me to say if I’d recommend this book to someone or not. I think I would if they’re really into Jane Eyre, but I’m not sure how I feel about it personally. I think the novel is doing some creative things with genre and with rewriting a classic, but it didn’t work for me ultimately. That being said, I love the mechanics of putting ghosts in talismans and might have to steal that for a D&D game. Hehe
Emily: Oh yes! Can we play a ghostbusting roleplaying game?
Mary: Aw yesssss. I think that could be fun! Lots of ghosts all with different personalities! There’s a lot of potential there, to be honest.
Emily: So basically Jane turns out to be a beacon, which means ghosts love her and do whatever she says. But she’s really chill about it and doesn’t care and doesn’t want to help the ghostbusters and just wants to be a governess and fuck Rochester. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that characterization of Jane. What did you think?
Mary: Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that either. It seems like a vast oversimplification of Jane in the original novel. I think My Plain Jane plans for that by having Jane Eyre be a real thing that exists. It’s possible Charlotte was just exaggerating to make a good story, but it’s still frustrating. I just think there should have been a lot more to Jane. Also, c’mon, SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN A GHOSTBUSTER. She would’ve! The Jane I know and love would’ve taken on that adventure in a heartbeat. Getting out and doing things and making a life is what Jane loves!
Emily: Well, I always got the feeling reading Jane Eyre that Jane is basically Charlotte, and Charlotte in My Plain Jane DOES want to be a ghostbuster. She does try to become one, even though she doesn’t have any gifts. So maybe the fictional Jane Eyre in the fictional novel that is My Plain Jane is supposed to be a merging of those two characters?
Mary: I think that’s probably true. I think that if you weren’t super familiar with Jane Eyre, this would probably be a better read. You’re the Brontë expert between the two of us, but I’ve read Jane Eyre and studied it in school, so I’m familiar enough to be like, HEY THESE THINGS FEEL WEIRD. I’m mostly just irritated that Rochester gets made into this nice dude, because he is a CREEP in the original text, and lots of folks love him. I don’t get romanticizing him that much, so I was like, NO DO NOT MAKE HIM OK. Sorry, that was a ramble, but here we are.
Emily: Well, I liked that he was like “LOL no it would be insane for me to fall in love with you. You’re a child. I’m going to get back together with my wife who is awesome.”
Mary: You’re right about that. I like that Bertha got to be cool and do important stuff and was like, actually no we’re pretty happy so...Bye Jane! Live your life, girl! What else?
Emily: IDK I just thought this was a super fun fast read but it was also very specifically catered to my specific tastes in a lot of ways.
Mary: Definitely--it is up all your alleys in so many ways! It is definitely a fast read, and it’s fun too, if you’re not a stickler like me. If you want to read it, let yourself enjoy it! Hahahaha
Emily: YEAH MARY LET ME HAVE THIS
Mary: Hehehehe--you can! It’s not bad, it’s just all your cups of tea and not really mine. I see what they’re doing, though, and I appreciate it.
Emily: Tell us about our next book then.
Mary: Yessss! Our next book is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. It’s gotten a LOT of buzz from young adult fans, and I’m pumped to read it. A lot of people have described it as Harry Potter, but what if Africa, but I suspect that’s kind of reductive. As per my usual, I’m just going to start reading and not look into it too much, but it’s magic, African folklore, and epic fantasy, which is all fun!
Emily: Sounds a little like Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor but longer. WE SHALL SEE.
Mary: And I really love Nnedi Okorafor! I’m excited to read it, and if you guys want to read along we suggest you START NOW. We cannot overemphasize that this is a big book!