Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Plain Janes

I picked up The Plain Janes after noticing that it was named one of YALSA's (Young Adult Library Services Association)Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2008 list. I thought it was just about an offbeat girl's navigations throughout high school, but quickly discovered that it was much more than that.

Jane enjoys her life in Metro City. She loves the diversity of people, the activity, the art galleries, and all the other trappings of city life. When an explosion hits the city, Jane's parents (particularly her mother) are scared and scarred emotionally. They decide to move to a safe and nondescript suburb, much to Jane's dismay.

Jane bemoans the fact that all the students seem alike (i.e. preppy), until she discovers a small group of unusual girls (all named Jane, but with different nicknames) at a lunch table. Although she is convinced that she has met her people, the girls aren't exactly the local Welcome Wagon (on the other hand, the "in group" wants to befriend Jane, the cool city girl in exile, much to her horror). Eventually, Jane worms her way into the group's tolerance, if not their heart.

The Janes decide to shake up the sleepy suburb, which is in danger of overdevelopment. They decide to plant random acts of public art throughout the town. This rattles the school, the town police, and the town officials to no end. The anonymous "troublemakers" are warned to cease and desist, while most of the students think the group is super cool.

The Plain Janes is a witty and moving story about healing, acceptance, and individual freedom. Cecil Castelluci obviously has a message about individual freedoms in the wake of terrorism (Metro City is clearly a stand in for New York City and the events of September 11), but the message is not heavy-handed or one sided. Indeed, the parents' fears and anxieties caused by the explosion in Metro City are sensitively drawn and realistic. Highly recommended for grades 6th and up.

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