Review: Re Jane by Patricia Park

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Re Jane by Patricia ParkRe Jane by Patricia Park
Published by Pamela Dorman on May 5, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Retelling
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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three-stars

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.

Reader, I remain hopelessly drawn to retellings. Much like my obsession with covers, I love when an author or artist can take something familiar and transform it into something new. With fiction, a retelling can be original and fresh in a way that is really surprising. Re Jane, a retelling of Jane Eyre with a half-Korean protagonist, called to me like Rochester called to Jane from the distant moors. Patricia Park takes the foundation of Jane Eyre and makes it into something modern, willing to sacrifice closeness to the original for authenticity of the era.

It’s hard for me to evaluate Re Jane as a novel apart from its nature as a retelling. I went into it with Jane Eyre first in my mind, curious how it could possibly be modernized. It’s actually almost impossible for me to make a guess as to whether I would have liked it more or less without being familiar with Jane Eyre.

There’s a lot about Jane Eyre that makes it tricky to retell. How to handle the wide age gap between Jane and Rochester? The crazy wife in the attic? St. John? The fire? Some of the plot is very much entrenched in antiquated ways. Bertha’s the prime example, and a spoiler of sorts is that Park chooses not to follow a lot of the plot elements of Jane Eyre. Park aims more, I think, for taking the character of Jane, putting her in the closest modern situation and seeing where she ends up.

To that end, Jane, educated in business and finance, finds herself jobless due to the economy. Living with and working for her uncle holds little appeal, so she applies on a whim for a position as an au pair. Though that’s not what she wants to do, it will get her out of Flushing and over to Brooklyn. There, she takes care of the adopted Chinese daughter of two academics, Beth Mazer and Ed Farley.

There’s something I really love about how Park set this up and something that I don’t love but that is still well done. I’m very glad that Beth isn’t insane, and I’m glad they she gets to have a character arc of her own. Bertha doesn’t get to be anything but crazy, and I think that’s harsh. Beth and Ed are just a couple whose affection didn’t last. On the downside, the modern version of Jane Eyre still has infidelity, and it’s even less forgivable, but, hey, at least Ed never lied about having a wife.

I never did ship Jane and Rochester, so it’s not surprising I was never really on board the Ed-Jane ship. They do form a connection of sorts, and I get why they were into one another, but I didn’t see it working out long term. I really love that Jane leaving Rochester was updated to Jane finding her roots in Korea. I thought that hit the same notes as the St. John bits while also being totally different.

Re Jane is gutsy in the way that it updates Jane Eyre. I’m impressed with how the novel ended, and I was left wanting to know more about Jane’s story. View Spoiler » Where Jane Eyre‘s focus lies on the romance, Park makes the story much more heavily about family and friendship. The highlights are Jane’s relationships with her uncle, Nina, and, to a lesser degree, Devon.

If you are also addicted to retellings, Re Jane is worth the time to unpack. I like retellings that dare to step away from the original while retaining the real spirit of it.

Favorite Quote: I totally failed to pay attention to this, because life has been hectic. Totally not the book’s fault.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif you transfix me jane eyre

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