Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Plain Janes (Graphic Novel)

The Plain Janes (Graphic Novel) Release date: 2007. Author: Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. Publisher: DC Comics. ISBN: 9781401211158.

Plot summary: Jane is a high school student in Metro City who's life is forever changed when she is injured by a terrorist bombing. Upon coming-to after the explosion, Jane discovers a young man unconscious nearby. She spends the next few months talking to him about her life as he lays in a comatose state in the hospital. The only possession he had at the time of the bombing was a sketchbook with "Art Saves" written on the cover. Jane feels very connected to "John Doe," and, after her parents move her to Kent Waters, Suburbia, she continues to write to him about her life. At her new high school, Jane ditches her formerly popular persona for one of an artsy, edgy rebel. She immediately decides to befriend the school "rejects," three girls, all named Jane. Together, the Janes form a new club: P.L.A.I.N or "People Loving Art in Neighborhoods. Inspired by John's sketchbook, Jane and the Janes seek to add art to the mundane, suburban life around them. Through a series of "art attacks," P.L.A.I.N earns increasing notoriety, and with it, increasing opposition from school officials and the police. The Janes are determined, however, that nothing will stop them from adding art to their community. As more and more of their classmates become involved in their activities, it seems that their efforts might succeed afterall.

Critical evaluation: Beautifully illustrated and with an original plot, The Plain Janes is a unique and interesting graphic novel that will appeal to both a teen and adult audience. Although it is a relatively short story, the characters are fully developed. Each Jane is unique with her own personality: there is the brainy Jane, the athletic Jane, and the actress Jane. The “main Jane” undergoes a transformation following her experience with a terrorist attack, and goes from typical high-school student to edgy art aficionado. The plot is driven forward by Jane’s letters to “John Doe” in which she describes her life in the suburbs and the activities of P.L.A.I.N. Her devotion to John is very endearing and provides a good backbone for the storyline. The actual activities of P.L.A.I.N are very reminiscent of the Guy Fawkes character in another graphic novel series, V for Vendetta. Their “art attacks” are illegal, but they feel that the risk is worth the benefit. This idea will resonate with teens: people doing things that go against society for the greater good. Teens will also enjoy the language Castellucci uses, creating realistic characters. Overal, The Plain Janes is an entertaining and clever novel with an interesting message. Teens and adults alike will be certain to enjoy it.

Reader's annotation: After moving from Metro City to suburbia, Jane befriends her new high school’s “rejects”: three girls, all named Jane. Together, Jane and her friends form a group called P.L.A.I.N (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) and wage an art war on their humdrum town.
About the authors: Cecil Castellucci was born in New York City in 1969. After attending the Laguardia High School of the Performing Arts, Castellucci studied theater in Paris before receiving her B.F.A. in Film Production from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Castellucci has had a varied career. She was part of an all-girl group in Montreal called Bite, then moved to Los Angeles and formed another band called Nerdy Girl. In 2005 she published her first novel Boy Proof which went on to be recognized as a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in 2006. Since then she has published several more novels, as well as her first graphic novel, The Plain Janes (2007). In 2010 Castellucci released her first picture book, Grandma’s Gloves. In 2011, Castellucci will release another graphic novel, Odd Duck, and two more novels for teens. She currently lives in Los Angeles. (

Cartoonist and illustrator Jim Rugg was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1977. Rugg has illustrated many comics and graphic novels including Street Angel, Afrodisiac, The PLAIN Janes, One Model Nation, and The Guild. His illustrations tend to nod at illustrators and pop culture from the 1970s. As an cartoonist and graphic artist, Rugg has many clients for whom he regularly produces art including UNICED, the American Red Cross, New York Magazine, the History Channel, Sony Music and VH1. In 2010, Rugg was nominated for the prestigious Ignatz Award for his comic Rambo 3.5. (

Genre: Graphic Novel

Curriculum ties:
Importance of art in society
Social movements

Booktalking ideas:
Rebellion against society
High school relationships

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 7+

Challenge issues:

Challenge counterpoints:
Recommended for grades 7+
Recommend parent read novel before or with child.
Recommend parent discuss concept of art as rebellion with child.

Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Vanity Fair.Award winning author and illustrator.

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