Published by Groundwood Books on September 1st, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
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Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.
Leaving the outcasts’ tent one night, Hélène encounters a fox, a beautiful creature with whom she shares a moment of connection. But when Suzanne Lipsky frightens the fox away, insisting that it must be rabid, Hélène’s despair becomes even more pronounced: now she believes that only a diseased and dangerous creature would ever voluntarily approach her. But then a new girl joins the outcasts’ circle, Géraldine, who does not even appear to notice that she is in danger of becoming an outcast herself. And before long Hélène realizes that the less time she spends worrying about what the other girls say is wrong with her, the more able she is to believe that there is nothing wrong at all.
This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.
Jane, the Fox and Me is a wonderful (for reasons I’ll get into later) middle grade graphic novel published by Groundwood Books which is an imprint of House of Anansi, a Canadian publishing company that I’m in love with. I first came across this graphic novel in a bookstore and it was love at first sight. Then love at second, third and fourth sight as well but alas, I wasn’t able to purchase it because, well, I needed to eat. One of my friends took pity on me and gifted it to me for my birthday and I finally had it in my possession.
Now that we have that little story to set the context, let me talk about the book itself. Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault have created a book that will speak to all of us women, no matter what age we are. Hélène is not sure why her group of friends have stopped talking to her and have started taunting her instead, but she does know that their cruelty hurts. Even though she is not pictured as fat or even overweight, Hélène‘s ex-friends taunt her about her weight, writing made up numbers on the walls of bathrooms or catcalling as she walks in the halls at school. And even though she is not fat, the bullies’ insistence that she is leads Hélène to start believing that way as well. In a rare moment of reflection and awareness, Hélène realizes, when she sees her mother halving the amount she eats, that this sense of image, this unhappiness is hereditary. That women have this, almost rabid, awareness of the space they occupy. Which led me to think of this.
Hélène loses herself in literature, specifically Jane Eyre, and one may argue that the graphic novel propounds bibliotherapy as a viable way to deal with stressful situations. I think we can all relate to Hélène where jumping into a madeup world to escape reality is concerned. The graphic novel is uplifting though; things do work out for Hélène, she does find a friend in the end.
But one cannot speak of Jane, the Fox and Me without speaking of the art. The art is stupendous. You can lose yourself into the lines and the shades and be blown away by how simply, yet how profoundly, emotion is expressed through the drawings on the page. To whet your appetite, here are some images: