The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger
I want to love “The History of Jane” because I felt the sincerity of the author to say something about loss, grief, guilt, and mental health, but that earnestness does not quite translate into a story that will make me care about it for a long while.
I am not saying that I did not enjoy reading it because I did. In fact, I inhaled the book like there’s no tomorrow. The hook is in the humor of Ray’s voice. Him and his vampire-fiction enthusiast, milk chugger bestfriend, Simon, are really funny. They are the kind of average students whom I would’ve wanted to be friends with in high school. I cannot say the same for Jane, though. I wish there’s more to her. Throughout the book, she is an enigma. She becomes the object of Ray’s unknowable whys as opposed to history, his favorite subject, which is mostly concerned with just the factual who-what-where-when of things.
The book bounces around the before and after of something unthinkable that happened. The transitions are seamless, I have no problems with the switching timelines. I am not sure if this style is meant to keep the reader guessing as to what actually caused Ray to define a before and after in his young life but the something unthinkable that happened is too predictable. I guessed it right too early and too far away from the actual reveal. Plot-wise, there is really nothing going for it but to go through the motions of Ray's feelings. I wouldn't have continued reading if I wasn’t already invested with the characters.
There are emotional moments here and there but they did not reach the tug at my heartstrings level. What made me finally tear up is a note from the author at the back pages where he mentioned that mental illness is something personal to him and his family. That’s why I said earlier that I knew the author meant well in writing this book. So even though “The History of Jane Doe” was not able to totally pull off what it was trying to say, it gets points for trying.
- compulsively readable
- likable and funny characters