Title: The History of Jane Doe
Author: Michael Belanger
Category: YA Contemporary
Publisher/Date: Dial Books/5 June 2018
A poignant, deeply funny coming-of-age story about first love, first loss, and the power of history to give life meaning.
History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville’s past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girl–we’ll call her Jane Doe.
Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane’s darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herself–from past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.
Mixing humor with heartache, this is an unmissable coming-of-age story from an exciting new voice in YA.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for suicide, mental illness, and depression.
This one is tough for me to review because while overall I really liked the writing style and the characters, it fell a little flat for me as a whole. I think that the counting down/counting up alternating timelines was interesting, but it would have worked better if what was going to happen with Jane wasn’t so obvious based on the “after” timeline. I knew what was going to happen to her by the end of the first chapter. This made the “reveal” a bit anticlimactic for me, as most of the surprise left was just gone.
I really liked the tone of the book — it was funny at times and yet didn’t hesitate to get serious when it needed to be, and I think this was handled very well. I think it highlighted how it’s not always easy to tell if someone is suicidal or not — a lot of people leave hints or ask for help, and others don’t. Sometimes you just don’t know, even if you sense that something is wrong. And it sucks.
One thing that I really enjoyed was the recurrent therapy storyline in the book — in the “after” chapters, Ray often found himself in therapy, and he wasn’t always happy to be around his therapist. I loved that he stuck through it, though. It’s easy to quit therapy when it just feels uncomfortable and wrong, but he gave it more than just one chance despite his attitude towards it and it worked out for the better for him. It felt very real to me, and I really enjoyed seeing that.
Overall this was a solid read for me in general, although the climax didn’t hit me as hard as I wish it did. It’s a good read, though probably not one of the most memorable.
Final rating: 4 of 5 stars