The History of Jane Doe by Micheal Belanger (2018)
Overview: Ray knows the entire history of his hometown, Burgerville, Connecticut. He also knows lots of different tidbits about the world as well. But, for his first written account of history, the story must center on loss, why, and fleeting moments of happiness. He has to tell the story of his first girlfriend, hidden by the anonymity of the name Jane Doe. Told in Before and After chapters, Ray explores the highs and lows he had in his fleeting relationship with Jane and his recovery from crushing loss. Overall: 4.5
Characters: 5 Jane is coping with clinical depression that probably stems from a combination of family history and past trauma. She goes between trying to hide her scars and struggles and exposing them, tiny piece by piece to the people she loves.
Ray is fascinated by Jane and the way she looks at the world and the town he's lived in all his life with fresh eyes.
His friend, Simon, is dorky and not quite all together but always wants the best for Ray and Jane. Showing how his grieving process clashes with Ray's adds depth to both of them.
Finally, Rich, Jane and Ray's therapist becomes a pretty pivotal character, and takes many of Ray's harshest emotions. Moving from casual annoyance with Ray's exercises to anger when he connects that Rich was Jane's therapist as well, we get to see an interesting dynamic come to life between them and build on the mental health and healthcare themes in the novel.
Plot: 5 The plot moves quickly, giving us the most important snapshots of the past to build a connection with Jane, and the most pivotal moments after to see Ray stumble through each stage of the grieving process until he can learn to cope with a loss that he should never be expected to get over. I love how completely Belanger explores Ray coming to piece with his loss.
Writing: 5 The writing is an interesting facet of this book, because, while it deals with a very heavy, serious topic, there is so much levity in the funny one liners and the self deprecating humor that it allows you to experience the story and the loss along with Simon and Ray, keeping you fully immersed in every moment. I thought the author did a very nice job staying true to the story and his characters.
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