This is a two-book graphic novel series that I’d been meaning to read since they came out in 2007. It’s written by the author of Odd Duck, and published by the sadly now defunct Minx Books, which focused on publishing graphic novels for teen girls.
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.
Teen-aged Jane is just walking in Metro City when a bomb goes off. She’s ok, and saves the life of an artist whose leg is wounded by holding on until help comes. But the mysterious artist only had his sketchbook on him, and isn’t waking up. Meanwhile, her mother has panicked at the close call and moved the family out to the suburbs of Ohio where she thinks they’ll be safer.
After this hard-hitting and somewhat grim start, the book lightens up somewhat. Jane cuts and dyes her hair in an effort not to feel like the victim she was at the bombing. She tries to find her place in the new high school, ignoring the overtures of the popular girls and persisting with a table of outcast girls (who are all named Jane as well), despite their initial coolness. She crushes on cute boy Damon, whose locker is near hers. She writes letters back to the man still unconscious in the hospital in Metro City. And she tries to find some way to bring joy back to her mother’s life. What she decides on is art. She convinces the Janes to form PLAIN – People Loving Art in Neighborhoods – hoping that spontaneous and unofficial art installations will help people to live in the moment and realize the joy of being alive. Of course, things never go as smoothly as planned, and neither her mother nor the community at large react as they expect. As the tagline says, “But can art really save a group of misfits from the hell that is high school?”
This really is a perfect high school book. All the high school social dynamics, plus the issues with authority and the new consciousness of bigger world events and the desire to change the world that comes with being a teen are here. It’s told in sassy but thoughtful language, with clear pictures that do the work of making characters distinct and recognizable (even as main Jane changes both her hair style and color), as well as bringing the teens’ art installations to life. 2007 seems like a while ago – but the book is still available for sale and in lots of libraries, so do yourself a favor and go find it.
Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.
The first book ended just after New Year’s. Now, it’s February. The Anthrax scare is on, and Main Jane’s mom is afraid to leave the house and checking up on Jane by cell as soon as school lets out. Jane still hopes that art will provide redemption – but is shaken to her core when she and the rest of the Janes get arrested. While the other Janes (and the irrepressible gay boy who’s joined PLAIN) insist they want to keep going, things are getting harder. Main Jane doesn’t want to risk her team getting in trouble again, plus art is expensive and they’re all running out of money.
While she gets encouraging letters from a secret admirer, all the Janes’ thoughts are turning to love. Main Jane can’t forget Damon, who (spoiler!) turned her down in the last book. Theater Jane has a deep and moody crush on a fellow drama boy from theater camp. Athletic Jane doesn’t hesitate to ask out the cute boy from the basketball team, while Science Jane is way too shy to ask out the smart boy from chemistry class. There’s also follow-up on the bomb victim Jane saved at the very beginning of the first book. While romance is fun, the focus of the book is still solidly on Jane’s struggle to find a way to continue PLAIN and bring art to people without it being considered terrorism. This is a solid and very enjoyable continuation of the story.