Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
published in 2012 by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
Hélène is a thoroughly-average, thoughtful, bookish young girl who for reasons incomprehensible to her and us has recently become a social pariah.
The mean girls decide these things. One day you’re in. The next minute you’re the butt of the joke.
The very school buildings are now an open wasteland with no place to hide, where laughter and cruelty gray the atmosphere and smother Hélène’s confidence. Snuff it right out.
Salvation comes by immersing herself into a good book. The story is Jane Eyre. Oh, to be like Jane, the tormented orphan who grows to be self-assured and conversational and who wins the heart of the dashing and brooding Mr. Rochester. Hélène feels more like a squat, fat sausage. She has absorbed the idiotic insults scrawled on the bathroom walls and they have become her reality.
But now, her worst nightmare comes true in the form of a class trip to nature camp. Four days and nights with her tormentors. Great. Buying a new swim suit for camp. Even better. A lonely bus ride. A spot in the tent for outcasts. Are we having fun yet?
Two things happen at camp, though, that are beacons in Hélène’s world. An electrifying encounter with a fox. And meeting Géraldine, a girl generously supplied with duck feathers, who lives and loves in a wonderfully disarming manner, and who thinks Hélène is a peachy friend. Imagine!
This quiet story is honest to the bones. It throbs like a toothache in places, flickers with hopefulness in others as Fanny Britt’s calm, measured words pull us along. At first I thought the holidays weren’t the right time to post this, but a second later I realized it’s quite possible to feel like “nothing but a sad sausage” precisely at this time. In the end, Jane is able to hear the truth about herself from people who have their heads on straight, and her world begins to brighten.
Isabelle Arsenault’s artwork is just so cool. Her rough, scratchy images of Hélène’s saggy existence contrast with the sharp, rosy illustrations of Jane Eyre’s storybook life. Beat-down-beige, gray, and black contrasts with brilliant persimmon, robin’s egg blue, and watermelon. The hand-lettering, too, varies, from generic, uneven capitals, to handsome penmanship in perfect lines as we move from Hélène’s mundane world to Jane’s romantic saga.
I must say, I also love the mother in this story. She’s a single mom, and her unflagging love is partially appreciated by Hélène. Her conspiratorial work in the swim suit department, her pushing past fatigue to accomodate Hélène… Hélène acknowledges these, but she doesn’t comprehend yet how much her mother knows of the world and its sorrows, so she keeps her secrets to herself. As I look on, I feel how much more Hélène’s mom sees and bears than her daughter realizes.
There’s lots more to say, but you should just read it for yourself. It’s a compelling graphic novel for ages 11 and up. Adults will definitely appreciate it as well.