Jane, the fox, & Me is a graphic novel told mainly through black and white colors. The graphic novel is done using mixed media (pencil, color crayon, gouache, ink, and watercolor), and some were assembled or touched up digitally.
The novel focuses on Helene, a young girl who is tormented by her schoolmates. They scribble means things on the bathroom walls and whisper that she has body odor and weighs 216 pounds. But Helene has one escape: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. When Helene reads Jane Eyre, all her troubles drift away and her drab, black and white world fills with color. Helen identifies with Jane’s problems, but when Helene is humiliated on a class trip, it’s going to take more than Jane Eyre to heal her.
Parts of this were a little confusing. Helene goes on a four-day nature retreat with her classmates and sees a fox while she’s there. The bit where the fox appears may confuse reads at first, but as the fox is the only color in the book that isn’t about Jane Eyre, the fox represents Helene’s desire for a friend. But when another girl who is sleeping in her tent scares the fox away, Helene blames herself. She scares boys, friends, and even foxes away. Helene does make a friend, a brave girl who stands up for her and becomes an outcast like Helene is.
What is most striking about the book is the subtle commentary on weight and body image. Helene is nowhere near 216 pounds, but views herself as a sausage. There’s a heartbreaking illustration where Helene is trying on bathing suits, and instead of seeing a person, there is a sausage in a swimsuit. She refers to herself as a sausage multiple times, and while this is not the focus of the novel, it is an important conversation on how easily bullies’ comments can become what you believe. Then, there is a scene at the doctor where Helene is weighed.
She weighs 88 pounds.
Just think about that for a moment. 88 pounds. I thought Helene was in middle school, but with that weight, I’m thinking Helene is elementary school. Helene claps both hands on either side of her face and pretends to shriek like the woman in the cereal box ad. But Helene says her mother also does this every time she weighs herself before bikini season. To her mother’s credit, she is embarrassed as Helene argues with that doctor that she is fat. He reassures her that she is simply growing, that it is normal, and she has nothing to be concerned about.
This is where the book could have become saccharine. Helene could’ve told her mother everything that was said at school, and they would’ve had a touchingly sweet, yet unrealistic, moment. Instead, Helene keeps the bullying to herself as she realizes the less she thinks about it the less it’s true.
This graphic novel will appeal to both younger and older readers. There are no swear words and no inappropriate drawings (nudity, sex, or violence) to not make this an appropriate title for eight to nine-year-olds and up. Considering the prevalence of bullying, and the rise of young girls dieting, introducing this book to younger readers could help a young girl, or boy, find their selves in a book that ultimately tells them what the bullies say are wrong. That is not who they are. They get to decide who they are.
Bibliographic Information: Britt, Fanny, and Isabelle Arsenault. Jane, the Fox & Me. Trans. Christelle Morelli. Toronto: Groundwood, 2013. Print.
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