The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:
As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.
Synopsis: Jane is unmoored within her own life. College doesn't suit, living with three grad students and working at a coffee shop is hideous. The world is unfair and awful, but it's what Jane has, after the death of her Aunt Magnolia. She longs for something nameless - and it walks into the coffee shop. Her old tutor, Kiran Thrash is rich, disaffected, and deeply unhappy. She doesn't understand Jane's staying in her world, going in circles, when she could come home to the Thrash family mansion to be unhappy with an old friend. So Jane packs up her possession, including her trunks of umbrellas, which she makes as ongoing art projects, and goes away with Kiran, to Tu Reviens, the island mansion her aunt told her to visit if she ever got an invitation. After months of directionless wandering, at least Jane has this.
Or, so she thinks. There's something SUPER weird going on at Kiran's. First, Kiran's stepmother has just vanished - entirely. No one knows where she's gone. Second, while there's a gala happening in a few days, and there are tons of people there, there is more than just party-prep going on as rafts of people wander in and out. Some of them seem to disappear in hallways or in the library, others of them seem to have found a secret door - and was that a man with a gun!? The house either has a haunting spirit, or a baby somewhere, from the wailing in the walls. And there was this one little girl she saw, digging holes in the lawn. There's a rambunctious dog, a couple of wealthy ladies, and whole raft of bewildering servants - some of whom act a whole lot more like they own the house than that they work there - Kiran's boyfriend, and Kiran's very handsome brother, Ravi, who adores the priceless - odd, and sometimes tacky - art located throughout the mansion, and has just had his prized Vermeer stolen.
Jane should really just hang out with her lathe and saw and finish working on her precious projects. No artist in the world has it as good as she does, with the ability to just potter along and make art in this gorgeous, gorgeous place, surrounded by the sea, with amazing food to eat whenever she wants it, and a beautiful suite of rooms -- but Jane can't help her curiosity and her desire -- her need -- to figure out what's going on at Tu Reviens. As it turns out, the servants knew her aunt! Surely there's something of her left behind - more than just her photographs. Surely, someone can tell her something about the woman she adored, but discovers that she didn't fully understand. But, every bit of knowledge changes Jane - and every choice comes with a price. Leaping down the rabbit hole after any number of clues she doesn't understand could change Jane's story forever.
Observations: NB Readers who come to this book looking for a GRACELING or BITTERBLUE readalike will be disappointed, as it is not medieval-era fantasy, nor are there swords or kingdoms.
After the death of her parents, the discovery that college wasn't really a good fit, and then the death of her Aunt Magnolia, who has for so long been her touchstone, Jane doesn't have much control over the elements of her life. Going to Tu Reviens, to fulfill a quirky request from her aunt seems like a single direction that makes sense. At the house, there are either/or feelings too - Ivy or Ravi, upstairs or down, answering which call from whom first - all of these options are before her. The idea of divergent roads, multiple universes, retries and do-overs would seem, to her, deliciously compelling. Teen readers, too, who fear regret and making "wrong" choices will find these ideas appealing. What choice Jane ultimately makes - and where the book actually ends, is anyone's guess... and the reader's choice.
Conclusion: The charm of the mid-80's Choose Your Own Adventure craze was the power over a story, in which readers could, through a combination of skill, luck, intuition, or sheer randomness, power themselves through the life of the book, avoiding ignominious conclusions to emerge triumphant in a glittering heroic ending. Since real life doesn't work like that, the appeal of the books is easy to see. Cashore capitalizes on the idea of second chances and do-overs to make five weirdly compelling - and compellingly weird - branches from the spokes of her metaphorical literary umbrella. An intriguing puzzle box of a book, readers will come away thoughtful - and will likely read it again, to see what they missed.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find JANE, UNLIMITED by Kristin Cashore at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!