Book: “Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore
Publishing Info: Kathy Dawson Books, September 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher
Book Description: If you could change your story, would you?
Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”
What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.
Review: I have a lot of thoughts on this book, on the book itself (which is of the sort that is probably best appreciated on re-reads) and on the reception of said book by the general reading public. But, without further ado: I, for one, absolutely loved the book and am absolutely baffled by the general reading public’s reception of it.
Jane parents died in an plane crash when she was a baby. They decided to sit on one side of the plane, and on that side, everyone died, On the other side, everyone lived. This choice changed Jane’s life, but led her to a happy childhood growing up with her Aunt Magnolia, a marine biologist with a general joie de vivre approach to life. Now tragedy has stuck again with the death of her beloved Aunt, and Jane finds herself aimless and alone, with only her love for umbrella-making to give her any purpose. That is until she is invited to Tu Revien, a house full of mysteries, and once again, there are important, life-changing choices ahead.
It’s hard for me to really get at this book and my reaction to it without wondering whether my prior knowledge of it affected my read. I’d like to think not, but I’m not sure. For one, I had the joy of getting to meet Kristin Cashore at ALA this last summer and hear her speak on a panel. During the panel, one librarian got up and asked if there were pages missing from her most recent book, as the librarian found it very confusing. Cashore said this was exactly what she had worried about when writing it, knowing that it was an experimental style. First, I was very embarrassed for everyone involved in this situation, as the panel was about a completely different topic and not the place for authors to be quizzed about their own works. Librarians should know better! But I won’t rant about that.
Cashore was gracious enough to explain that she started the book as a “choose your own adventure” story, which than morphed into a more traditional novel, in that it is meant to be read in a linear fashion. So, I had this information going in and to a certain extent knew what to expect. However, that aside, I do think that she did an amazing job setting up that this was where the story was headed, with no prior knowledge of this required. As I laid out in my brief plot description, the story starts out with the idea that Jane’s entire life was shaped around a completely arbitrary decision that her parents made, which side of the plane to sit on. Further, Jane and her friend, Kiran, a member of the family who owns the house and the one who invited Jane there, discuss the fact that choices can lead you to very different places in life, and you never know which choice will be the one to make the big difference.
With this premise, the story starts out slowly putting together a great cast of characters, and many mysteries for Jane to follow. This takes about 100 pages or so, which is where I’ve heard the most complaints about it being a slow read. For me, this was completely necessary work for laying a foundation for the rest of the book. In these pages, we get to know Jane, and those around her. We have mysterious disappearing art, rumors of a missing family and their children, a dog that is obsessed with a painting, and the family’s own strange history with the missing first and second wife of the father. From there, Jane chooses.
And yes, those choices have drastically different outcomes! I’m talking, genre-defying outcomes. I don’t know how I’ll categorize this book when I get to posting it, because it’s a bit of everything. We have mystery, we have intrigue, we have horror, we have sci-fi, we have fantasy. You name it! And what makes this even more excellent is the way the story reads, as, like I said, it is still laid out in a linear manner, meaning each section is meant to be read after the last. You aren’t supposed to “pick” which story to read, but go through them in the order they are presented. Through this method, you see the real genius of what Cashore has done: with each storyline, the reader has more knowledge of all the elements at play. We see characters move in and out of a scene and have more knowledge of what is going on than Jane herself, because we’ve seen that side of the story already, through a previous choice. It’s the kind of book that I’m sure is even better the second time, catching all the small details that are woven throughout all of these various outcomes. It’s simply brilliant.
Beyond this, each genre was compelling. I had my favorites, but I was impressed by Cashore’s ability at them all. The horror story line was particularly disturbing. And, not surprisingly, I enjoyed the sci-fi and fantasy plotlines the best. Most of all, I spent a ridiculous amount of timing wondering which choice I would have made, and then dissecting which plot line would be the best to choose in order to increase one’s chances of eventually encountering ALL of the mysteries, but still avoiding the horror one. Seriously, I’ve continued to think about this for like a week even after finishing the book.
And this is why I’m so baffled by the book’s general reception! Cashore’s writing is as strong as ever. Her characters are compelling, and anyone who’s read “Bitterblue,” specifically, shouldn’t be shocked by her more introspective character in Jane. And yet, on Goodreads, there are so many low stars! And look, I’m all for that everyone has their own opinion, and I’m not here to tell anyone that they’re wrong, but I do find it surprising. I think much of it is simply due to the fact that here we have an author who wrote a beloved fantasy trilogy years ago, and everyone’s been waiting with baited breath for her to re-emerge with her newest YA fantasy work, preferably in the same world. And then we got…this. Which is so completely different than the books we all loved from her before. But if an author is allowed only to write what we loved and were comfortable with before, how limiting would that be? If we only expect one kind of book from any given author simply because they wrote a good one in that mode in the past, we are doing not only them, but ourselves, a massive disservice.
I don’t particularly think this result was anyone’s fault. It’s definitely not Cashore’s, who is free to write whatever calls to her. And I can even understand fan disappointment from those who so loved “Graceling” and were wanting more of the same (for the record, I, too, loved “Graceling” and “Fire” and have my hardback copies stored lovingly on my shelves). But I do challenge readers to strive against the tendency to limit authors and our own reading habits to only the “known” and comfortable. You never know what you’re missing out on. And, let me say, had some of those DNF reviews managed to get past the first half of the book that was not the sword-and-sorcery fantasy they had expected, they might have found themselves choosing a path that included its own delightful fantasy world!
Rating 9: A criminally under-appreciated book and the answer to “what would an adult ‘chose your own adventure’ novel look like?”
Find “Jane, Unlimited” at your library using WorldCat!