[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher House of Anansi/Groundwood Books. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
Sometimes you go into a book after hearing it hyped up only to be disappointed. Sometimes you go into a book with no expectations and it completely blows you away. The latter happened to me when I picked up Jane, the Fox, & Me by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.
Jane, the Fox, & Me is a children’s graphic novel that follows a young girl named Hélène. Hélène has been the victim of schoolyard bullying for no apparent reason at all, and she copes by immersing herself in literature – Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, to be exact. Then, one day, she is forced to confront her peers as a school-mandated camping trip comes up. When they get there, Hélène feels more alone than ever. Will she ever escape the bullying? How can she convince her peers – and herself – that she is worthy of acceptance, love, and respect?
The first wonderful thing about this book has nothing to do with its content and everything to do with its design. This hardcover book is quite a bit bigger than your average paperback novel and slightly bigger than some standard graphic novels. I thought the larger pages worked really well as it allowed the artwork to really draw the reader in and command the reader’s attention.
This is just a sample of the breathtaking artwork that can be found in Jane, the Fox, & Me.
That is not to say that the book relied solely on its artwork and space to do all the work. The second wonderful thing about Jane, the Fox, & Me is its writing. Britt manages to capture the feeling of loneliness so well that I felt my heart tugging as I read about Hélène’s time at school and how isolated she felt from her peers. The sentences are short and abrupt, and the language is easy to understand. Even though there is an underlying melancholic tone, there is still a glimmer of hope between the pages that is extremely comforting and reassuring.
As someone who was bullied in school, I could completely relate to Hélène. My heart ached when I saw how unhappy she was. Understandably, the bullying at school has affected her self-image, and I quickly became protective of her and wanted everything to be better for her. Perhaps that is why I couldn’t pull myself away from the pages; I just had to keep reading to make sure that Hélène would be okay in the end, whether it be because she finds solace in her reading or in a friend. I won’t say too much more as this is really a book that you should experience for yourself, but I will say that this is one of the most affecting graphic novels I’ve ever read, and would confidently recommend it to readers of all age groups. Loneliness is truly a universal feeling, and if we can’t immediately shake the feeling, then at least we can share our loneliness with loveable and relatable fictional characters, right?
Verdict: A book that would have been a helpful friend to me during my years in middle school. Jane, the Fox, & Me is a beautifully done, well-executed novel that delights in its relatability and immersive artwork. I can’t recommend it enough.
Read if: You want to lose yourself to a relatively short book that packs an emotional punch, you, like Helene, enjoy escaping the real world by reading, if you’ve ever felt lonely, sad, or just need a friend.
Have you ever escaped loneliness through reading? Have you read Jane, the Fox, & Me?