Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: Janes in Love

Janes in Love
Cecil Castellucci, writer; Jim Rugg, illustrator
2008; Minx (DC Comics); 978-1-4012-1387-9 (softcover)

Summary: P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) is back! Jane and her friends--who all happen to be named Jane or some variation--have created a street art movement that is both embraced and threatened in the small town of Kent Waters. Yet after making a stand for art, Jane isn't so sure that beauty really exists--not when so many people try to discourage it. Plus, the Janes are fighting, Cindy won't speak to Jane, and there's still the majorly confusing Damon. Will Jane break under the pressure and confusion, or will she find strength in her art?

Side Note: There's apparently two different covers for this graphic novel! The one I read features Jane with red hair, whereas the covers available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble show her with black hair, as was established to be her hair color in the original graphic novel.

Four Things to Know About Janes in Love

#1: Lightning doesn't always strike twice.

Janes in Love is the sequel to the widely-acclaimed The Plain Janes. The first graphic novel was named a Great Graphic Novel for Teens and seemingly established Minx as a comics imprint to watch. Unfortunately, Janes in Love doesn't match the appeal of The Plain Janes, although there is plenty to like in this sequel. That's always the risk in following the events of one book in another: the magical alchemy that created the first book is just a little off the second time around. The focus on romance in this graphic novel draws too much attention away from P.L.A.I.N.'s efforts to create art in their neighborhood and Jane's recovery from the trauma of the Metro City bombing. And that's a real drawback to this graphic novel, even as there are other good story lines in play. Perhaps this was supposed to be a transitional novel, setting up the next book in the series. However, the unfortunate cancellation of Minx has set the future for any Minx-published books into great doubt.

#2: Where should art be found?

Janes in Love continues the discussion about art and beauty begun in The Plain Janes. P.L.A.I.N. is still seen as vandalism in Kent Waters; rather than support a public garden on a long-vacant lot, the town holds out hope that a developer will buy the property. Like so many towns, Kent Waters seems focused on a development-friendly policy, to the point of losing the town's identity. From the viewpoint of the town's powers-that-be, it could be P.L.A.I.N. today, terrorists tomorrow. Yet this argument only reflects the lack of logic that pervades government that prizes being "safe" above all else.

#3: How does art survive?

As Sondheim said in the song Putting It Together, "Advancing art is easy-financing it is not." Jane's ideas have outstripped their allowances, so she writes a grant application for funding to create a neighborhood garden. There are challenges from both the grant organization and from the town, creating roadblocks to Jane. Yet she keeps working to create the garden, helped by her friends. When their project succeeds, P.L.A.I.N. is lauded for their work, especially since they're just high school students. This success is all the sweeter for the hard work and setbacks that we see Jane experience.

#4: Friends and love: sometimes they mix, sometimes they don't.

Love is in the air, and all the Janes are crushing on different guys. Some work out, some don't. Front and center is the messy friendship--or maybe more?--between Jane and Damon. Full of mixed messages, longing, and jealousy, these two never seem to be in the right place together. At the end of the story, they're friends, although it's played ambiguously. While this ambiguity is unnecessarily murky, not to mention enough to make the reader want to shake Jane until she's over her crush on Damon, it's an interesting way to end a novel that has featured so much romance.

Janes in Love works as a stand-alone graphic novel, yet it is more fully enjoyed after reading The Plain Janes. For those artsy teens who are always drawing, pass them these two graphic novels to help them expand their vision.

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