Somewhat like the choose-your-own-adventure books with alternate endings, Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore occasionally leaves the reader with the feeling of being lost in a maze, confused by the various plot twists and turns or coming upon a similar detail and experiencing déjà vu. Although Cashore’s book is intended for linear, cover-to-cover reading, when the book’s protagonist, Jane, approaches an important choice, the reader follows her down that path to see how the decision plays out.
The novel begins on a boat, with Jane travelling to Tu Reviens, a house on an island and a place of opportunity. She had promised her deceased aunt Magnolia that if she ever received an invitation to visit Tu Reviens, she would accept. Because Jane doesn’t know how to act around people who own yachts and private islands, she practices her jellyfish breathing: slow, deep, even breaths, a technique that Aunt Magnolia has taught her. Since losing her aunt, Jane feels untethered, like a “young woman of reduced circumstances, with no family and no prospects, invited by a wealthy family to their glamorous estate” (14). She is hopeful that good things will come of her odd adventure to the Thrash’s home when Kiran invites her to a gala.
At Tu Reviens, which means You Return, the inhabitants all seem odd, secretive, or obsessed, including the basset hound Jasper who acts like he has a personality disorder with his head butting, biting, or tripping Jane as if to direct her movements. Occasionally, he will sit in front of a painting in the blue sitting room, gazing and sighing. Even the house itself seems alive, with is moaning, whispering, humming, or singing.
But the dog’s quirky behavior and the house’s animation are not the only mysteries. The first Mrs. Thrash, a theoretical physicist who believes in the multiverse with its alternate universes and who is thought by some to be insane or a witch, lives upstairs in the attic; the second Mrs. Thrash is missing, and even though her husband Octavian has hired investigators, Charlotte hasn’t been found.
A missing stepmother, guests who disappear on mysterious journeys, missing art, and the general enigmatic behavior Jane observes all engender curiosity. Like her aunt Magnolia, Jane has a talent for uncovering hidden truths, but the more she learns, the less things make sense. Although people tell her that what happens is a direct result of the choices she makes, she’s discovering another truth: Some things do happen because we choose them, but other times, we don’t even realize that the choice we’re about to make is significant, and often what happens seems entirely random. Feeling like she’s trapped in the wrong version of her life, Jane often searches for her deceased aunt in her memories, speaking with her and asking for advice or looking for inspiration. As Jane discovers the many lives that comprise her one life, she manages to get crime-fighting, mystery-solving confusion dirt under her fingernails. She also manages to uncover various secrets and to learn that the more she accepts a lack of cohesion in her life, the better off she is.
Cashore’s book promises to intrigue readers with its discussion of possibilities and multiverses and with its creative style. Cashore not only defines home as “one’s headquarters, one’s backdrop, one’s framework, one’s history, and one’s haven” (434) but also develops her characters with figurative language, describing Jane as thinking umbrella thoughts, for example, or as reaching away while being held together, just like an umbrella’s ribs. As much as this is Jane’s story, it is also a story of human behavior and how we’re all affected by our origins, experiences, and social interactions. It’s a story about grieving, depression, deceit, betrayal, narrow conceptions, and society’s often unreasonable expectations for integration. And it’s a story about overcoming the limitations imposed by all of those forces. Despite all of our stumbling and making mistakes, life is really about assembling our broken pieces and surviving the pain.
- Posted by Donna