Thursday, April 08, 2010
Book Review: The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
After a terrorist attack in her old home, Metro City, Jane Beckles' parents decide to move away to the suburban town of Kent Waters. She joins the local school and decides that she doesn't want to have the superficial friendships she had in Metro City any more. When the most popular girl in school invites her to sit at her table, Jane walks away, choosing to eat with the group of misfit girls instead. She asks them their names and decides that she, Theatre Jane, brainy Jayne, and sporty Polly Jane should be a gang immediately.
Jane is still making trips back to Metro City - when the bomb exploded she found herself lying in the street beside a man who is now in a coma, they call him John Doe. Jane treasures the sketchbook she 'borrowed' from him, which has 'Art Saves' written on the cover. She writes to him regularly, and we see these letters in the book. Jane decides to see if art can save, to try to make the outside world more beautiful for her, and the Janes become an art gang, called P. L. A. I. N. - People Loving Art In Neighbourhoods. They start sneaking around at night, creating public artworks - like putting bubbles in fountains and a whole load of garden gnomes together - but since the bomb went off in Metro City, people have closed their minds and they are frightened by the anonymous displays, leading to curfews and police warnings...
I really enjoyed The Plain Janes. It has a fast paced yet emotionally striking storyline, and I liked the idea of a gang of girls secretly making public art pieces. The art works for the most part, although it is sometimes too sparse, I would have liked more detail, especially in the interior of buildings. The Janes' characters do rely too much on clichés, and the main Jane, Jane Buckles, and Theatre Jane, have more space spent developing their characters than the other two. I would also have liked to see some aspects of the plot explained in more detail, to see some of Jane's life before the terrorist attack. There is a lot crammed into to this short book, which is overall a good thing, but I often wanted it to be fleshed out more. The book doesn't have a real ending, it just cuts off - but there is a sequel, Janes In Love, that concludes the girls' story. There were originally meant to be several books in this series, but the Minx imprint was cancelled.
I think The Plain Janes is a fantastic read for teenagers, with its themes of rebellion and friendship. Jane is a great heroine for teenage girls to look up to, but the story could appeal to boys too. It would be especially good for reluctant readers, as the style is very filmic and it is quick to get through, thinner than the average paperback and light to carry around. Adults should enjoy this too but they are more likely to wish it was longer and that the characterisation and plot was filled out more.
The Plain Janes was the first release under the DC Comics imprint Minx, aimed at young girls and cancelled after only two years. It is the first book in this imprint that I have read, I have now read four and hope to read all the others that made it to print before the line was cancelled, look out for more Minx reviews coming up!
The Plain Janes is written by Cecil Castellucci, who has three published YA novels and is also a musician. Her website is . The art is by Jim Rugg, best known for his work on the comic book series Street Angel.