Janes in Love
by Cecil Castelucci, Jim Rugg (Minx/DC Comics, 2008)

Picking up where The Plain Janes left off, Janes in Love finds the band of high school renegade artists still committing acts of art, still brushing up against the law, still wondering when they are going to get boyfriends. Apparently, it's a lot easier to create acts of art than it is to figure out what to do with adolescent males.

It's time for the "Who's going to the big dance?" theme that seems to be such a staple of YA literature. For our Janes it's the "Ides of March" Dance, and one of the big questions is, how are they going to get dates?

The other questions are: would it be possible, with the help of an actual FDA grant, to legally create art for the community, instead of having to hide in the shadows and getting busted for vandalism? Is the main Jane's (Jane Beckles) mom ever going to leave the house again? Is Jane helping people or hurting them with her attempts to make her still-new hometown of Kent Waters a more interesting place?

I like how Cecil Castelucci weaves extremely serious themes in with the everyday concerns of teenagers. She's wonderful at describing the unending confusion over trying to figure out how to react to, let alone deal with, a difficult, life-altering situation. And the issues here are as serious and life-changing as they come: Jane's mom has collapsed at the news that yet another terrorist attack has taken the life of her best friend from college. Unable to cope, she cannot leave the house, refusing to face a world that's too unsafe. Miroslav, the boy Jane has a weird crush on, who was in a coma after the bombing that sent her family from Metro City to Kent Waters, has awakened and has been reading the letters she sent him while he was comatose. She's torn up with guilt that Damon, the other boy she likes, is still doing community service for taking the rap for committing the art crimes that the Janes did. Officer Sanchez, the hyperactive cop from The Plain Janes, is determined to extinguish the Janes once and for all.

Relationships are becoming strained between the Janes, between Jane and her parents, and just about everybody else in her world. To top it all off, she's got a secret admirer, whose identity is a real surprise. To put it in terms Theater Jane would dig: the main Jane is really tapping into her inner Hamlet in this one.

There is less art on display and more emotion and inner turmoil. The theme is one of freedom of speech vs. repression; more to the point, it's about not being afraid to speak, or face, the truth about what frightens us. It rings very true in this post 9-11 world. Castelucci has a lively intellectual debate going on from the very first page, touching on the nature of art, truth and similarly meaty topics. It's great that there are books like this out there so that adults will see how smart and creative teenagers can be. Jane navigates her upside down world with great sensitivity, trying to figure out where to go next when she hasn't got a clue how to help anyone and every avenue turns into another roadblock. But when you have more on the line you reach levels of creativity you didn't know you had. Once again art can heal and help, maybe even save the world, but that depends on how much we choose learn from it.

Jim Rugg's simple, clean style is once again a perfect match for Castelucci's crisp, intelligent writing. He can make the leap from somber to serious quite easily, not to mention being great at drawing distinctive facial shapes that make each character recognizable.

JiL pulls off the neat trick of being cerebral and rather deep while also being fast and funny, with characters believable enough to give the story realistic weight. This series has been a good start for DC's Minx line and they are doing a great job with it. Here's hoping there's another installment soon.

review by
Mary Harvey

4 July 2009

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