Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Helene used to be friends with a group of girls at schools.  But now they all make fun of her, calling her fat.  Helene has no one now.  She finds comfort in reading Jane Eyre.  Jane had no on either, but she was still smart and capable.  The final straw comes when Helene is humiliated in front of everyone on a school trip.  Not even Jane Eyre is enough anymore.

This was lovely.  A heartfelt story about bullying, the feeling of isolation, and the impact a single person can make by reaching out to another.

Helene takes things especially hard because the girls who are now tormenting her were once her friends.  Helene doesn't really know what happened, but now she has no one.  No one will talk to her.  She is a social outcast.  Helene works her way through Jane Eyre, finding a companion in isolation and comfort that things can work out OK, even for someone who is friendless.  Helene begins to despair when things take a bad turn for Jane, and she has to go on a retreat with her whole class.

It's on this retreat that Helene, feeling more alone than ever, sees the fox.  The fox is beautiful and approaches her.  But even this magical moment is ruined and makes her feel like a freak.

I was confused throughout the book by how Helene was draw.  All her ex-friends are calling her fat.  She's sure her mother is ashamed of her.  But she didn't look overweight at all.  It all becomes clear toward the end when Helene goes for her yearly physical and her doctor informs her she's right on track.  Helene insists she's fat.  The doctor informs her she isn't anything of the kind.  The kids at school calling her fat got into her head until Helene truly believed that she was.  And the kids calling her fat were just being cruel.  It was based on nothing.

The illustrations were for the most part in gray and black, reflecting Helene's depression and feelings of isolation.  The only color was when we saw Jane Eyre.  Jane's life had a little color in it, although Jane herself was still all black and white.  For Helene, everything is gray until the fox appears.  The fox is bright with color.  A fleeting brightness in Helene's life.  But then it's gone and everything is black again.

As Helene makes friends with Geraldine, color begins to come into Helene's world.  Not right away.  But after making a friend and realizing she isn't actually overweight, we begin to see a few spots of color.  On sneakers and tee shirts, in the trees, and it ends with Helene walking into a world of color.

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