Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Review: Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher: Walker Books
Format: Large hardcover
Released: February 6th, 2014
Helene is not free to hide from the taunts of her former friends in the corridors at school. She can't be invisible in the playground or in the stairways leading to art class. Insults are even scribbled on the walls of the toilet cubicles. Helene smells, Helene's fat, Helene has no friends ... now. When Helene's heart hammers in her chest as Genevieve snickers at the back of the bus, inventing nasty things to say about her, Helene dives into the pages of her book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. And, in the solace she finds there, Helene's own world becomes a little brighter. But how will the story end? Is there any hope for the wise, strange, plain Jane Eyre? How could Mr Rochester ever love her?
I don't often read graphic novels aimed at children; there doesn't seem to be many, and those that exist I never seem to hear about. So when I was asked to review Jane, the Fox and Me, I was pretty excited. I love illustrations and I love words, and mixing the two together often produces fantastic results. This book is no exception, and I'm so glad it's getting a UK publication. I just hope it finds its way into the right hands.
This is a fairly short read, one-hundred-and-one pages, to be exact, but its pages are infused with emotion. It's about a girl, Helene, who's bullied relentlessly by her former friends and fellow classmates. They tease her about her weight, her appearance and fashion choices, really anything they can find to make her feel bad about herself. Her mother is so worn out she doesn't notice, so Helene takes solace in a book: Jane Eyre. She's enchanted by the story, about how Mr. Rochester loves Jane even though she's plain and wears brown dresses. Helene hopes there's someone out there for her somewhere, someday. Everything changes when she goes on a school trip and meets Geraldine - a girl who doesn't laugh, taunt or make her feel bad. A friend at last.
I absolutely cannot abide bullying of any form, and it always makes me sad to read about it, even if it's only fictional. No one person should be made to feel anything less than happy with themselves and with life, but it's important to document what goes on in school halls and how things can eventually get better. Fanny Britt writes here with the utmost care and attention, making Helene come to life and showing us her struggle. There isn't a huge amount of text included, but what there is packs a punch and successfully takes the story of a lonely, lost girl who just needs someone to see her for what she really is. It's a truthful, heartbreaking story but one that instills a sense of hope and a feeling that life can surprise you even in the darkest of times.
Isabelle Arsenault's illustrations are unusual, mixing black and white pages with sparse bursts of colour, perfectly conveying Helene's changing feelings. The illustrations are simpler than what I'm used to seeing in children's books, but here they work so well and succeed in presenting Helene's feelings of doubt and despair. Paired with the accompanying text, these drawings complete Helene's story, making Jane, the Fox and Me a wonder of a children's graphic novel. This book should be supplied to every school in the country to help highlight the effects of bullying, maybe then people would understand more what it's like to feel so low and worthless and would think twice about yelling a hurtful name across the playground. I'll certainly be revisiting this one, and here's hoping it reaches a wide, varied audience.