O’Brien Press, 2016
YA – Contemporary
Jane is used to living in her sister Emma’s shadow, first with Emma’s successful dance career, then with her cancer diagnosis. Ever since Emma was diagnosed three years ago, their family’s life has revolved around the hospital. Jane has never resented the attention her sister receives, but her life has become monotonous and apathetic. She skips class, feels stuck in her small hometown and her relationships with her friends and her boyfriend have stalled. No-one notices that Jane is struggling, and she doesn’t have the energy to break out of the cycle she has become trapped in.
‘How do you rebel when nobody cares? How do you rebel when you no longer care yourself?’
There are a number of important relationships in this book. We see how Jane is distancing herself from her boyfriend and her best friend. Also, the impact her new friend Farley, a musician who’s world is so different from hers, has on her. One thing this book is really strong on is sisterhood, and it is interesting to see how the dynamic changes between Jane and Emma throughout the book. Hood really shows how complex this relationship can be, especially given their circumstances.
‘There was just this numb sort of hole where there used to be a confusion of love and resentment and pride and all those sorts of sister-emotions. Now, when that hole filled up with anything, it was always with pure toxic feelings – like dread, or fear.’
As with her debut novel Finding a Voice, Kim Hood tackles difficult issues in a very sensitive manner. She shows the impact Emma’s illness has had on the whole family, and by focusing on Jane rather than Emma she offers a different perspective. She shows how difficult it is to see someone you love suffer, and to take a back seat in the family. The sections of the book are named after different musical terms (although Jane has a greater interest in art) which fit the changing pace of the story, and Jane’s changing moods. Without giving away too much, the book also gives a real insight into what it is like to struggle with a mental illness. Plain Jane is a very moving read, with an incredibly well-written protagonist who is flawed, nuanced and stronger than she knows.
Kim Hood is an exciting new voice on the Irish YA scene, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.