by Patricia Park
Amazon / Goodreads
For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. Sardonic yet vulnerable, Jane toils, unappreciated, in her strict uncle’s grocery store and politely observes the traditional principle of nunchi (a combination of good manners, hierarchy, and obligation). Desperate for a new life, she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Inducted into the world of organic food co-ops, and nineteenth–century novels, Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul, leaving New York far behind.
Reconnecting with family, and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Jane returns to Queens, where she must find a balance between two cultures and accept who she really is. Re Jane is a bright, comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living not just out of obligation to others, but for one’s self.
Review:I have read quite a few "Jane Eyre" retellings, of various quality and variety, but I am happy to say that I've never read one quite like this book. Many retellings put the focus on the romance which is always lovely, but "Re Jane" is much more about the main character Jane's development into an adult - dealing with her family, an affair, and her cultural heritage. There's so much more to this story than just a reimagining of "Jane Eyre" - Jane Re is a powerful character in her own right.
I do want to touch on the Jane Eyre aspect first however. It definitely wasn't what I thought it would be, but it was everything it should have been for a modern version of Jane Eyre. It was realistic, with serious consequences for Jane's actions despite her youth and naiveté. The story has quite a few differences from Charlotte Brontë's work, but the basics are there, and it's interesting to see how the author, Patricia Park, brings it all up to date for the New York setting. There's also tons of little nods to the original novel - from short lines sprinkled into the narrative, to names reminiscent of their Victorian counterparts. I think a "Jane Eyre" retelling works best when it remains true to the spirit and the intent of the original, while also making it's own statements that are true to the characters and the setting of the retelling. And in this way, "Jane Re" is wonderfully imaginative and intelligent.
The depth of this novel is what makes this such a stand out read. Because I also have a mixed race background, I really identified with Jane's struggle, living in America, to understand her Korean family and her heritage. Korean values, as depicted in this book, are very different from American values, and it was intense seeing Jane cope with that. This book is also a wonderful window into Korean culture as Jane also travels to Korea and lives there for a time. The details the author presents of Korea made it easy to feel like I was also on this journey with Jane. I was happy to have my mind opened to such a varied scope of life beyond what I am familiar with. Even the way life in New York and Queens was depicted was eye-opening for me.
Jane, as a character, is shy, thoughtful, practical and initially pretty surly, yet getting away from her family opens her up in many ways. She becomes more independent, layered and a warmer person and her subtle transformation made me love this story so much. I loved that the focus was on Jane finding out what was best for her, and her development felt believable and life-affirming. While Jane's family can be a trial for her, there was a lot of heart in their portrayal as characters, and the development in particular of her cantankerous Uncle who raised her, and her nurturing Aunt in Korea made Jane's development even more compelling and dynamic. In "Jane Eyre", Jane leaves her family behind (not that the Reeds were interested in maintaining a relationship), but Jane Re deals with them and comes to a very satisfying acceptance of them. This is another example of the realism of this modern interpretation.
Jane Re makes some difficult and sometimes questionable decisions in this story, but it's important for her to make mistakes to understand herself better. I found this a remarkably well-conceived novel with wonderful character development and depth. "Jane Re" is an immersive, thought-provoking read and a fantastic modern coming-of-age story.
(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)