Graphic Novel Review | The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg

the-plain-janes-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: The Plain Janes
AUTHOR: Cecil Castellucci
ARTIST: Jim Rugg
PUBLISHER: Minx
RELEASE DATE: May 2, 2007
GENRE: Graphic Novel, Young Adult Fiction
PAGE COUNT: 176


The Plain Janes is the delightful story of how art changed a small community’s outlook on life.  With media constantly encouraging us to fear the unknown, this book reminds us that opening our eyes to everyday beauty can save our sanity.  

After she survives a bomb attack, Jane’s family relocates from the city to the suburbs.  At her new high school, she finds her tribe: Jane the theatre lover (TheatreJane), science whiz Jayne (BrainJayne), and Polly Jane (SportyJane).  This odd bunch combine their unique talents to conquer the mundane through “art attacks”, ranging from knitted hats for fire hydrants, to turning the town into a replica solar system.  They call themselves P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighbourhoods).  Soon, their mini art revolution will have to contend with police crackdowns, being grounded, and, of course, their own demons of self doubt.

When the Janes and I are doing our art thing I feel like I’m giving a piece of joy to everyone.  It’s like asking the world to keep me safe by making them pause for just one minute – The Plain Janes

The Plain Janes surprised me.  After finishing it in one captivated sitting, I realised how completely it transformed my mood, like it had given me a getaway from my busy life.  I even forgot to feel stressed!  Which is, by the way, exactly the point of this book.  Our narrator, (MainJane), uses art to ground herself whenever life gets overwhelming.  Her aim is to make the world pause for a moment, and see life through a fresh lens.  This is precisely what reading The Plain Janes did for me.

It’s a fact of life.  Hearts are always hurting.  And yet they still keep pumping.  The best way to fix a broken heart is to do something beautiful.  Something P.L.A.I.N. – The Plain Janes

Although the characters of The Plain Janes are archetypes, this didn’t impact my enjoyment one bit.  Even if you’ve never heard the term before, we all know archetypes.  They’re flat characters built on stereotypes e.g. the egocentric popular girl, the flamboyant gay guy, the shy but brilliant math nerd etc.  I found that for such a short book, these archetypes serve a purpose – we launch into the story and immediately fall in step with characters we feel like we already know well.  While these characters would be much too underdeveloped to satisfy readers of a full-length novel, the flatness of the characters highlights the message as the focus.

Although she’s not the deepest character ever written, MainJane’s journey inspires some important questions: What does your tribe look like?  Is your dream worth fighting for?  Can an attitude shift make the world a better place?  The Plain Janes illustrates the power of collective passion and effort to change society, and how being mindful in the present moment is a demonstration of your personal power.  What better way to share this message than a graphic novel?  The art style of The Plain Janes is pared back, but with close attention to expressive facial detail.  As with the story itself, the art is simple yet so emotive.

Despite its sweet outward appearance, the message of The Plain Janes is surprisingly moving.  It uses a simple storyline and a cast of cute archetypes to drive home a crucial point.  This book is for anyone who doesn’t quite fit the mould.  

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