This graphic novel is beautifully drawn and I was immediately attracted by the art. With the reference to Jane Eyre written in the very title I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I was very excited to read it even before I saw a summary or some reviews.
The story follows Helen, a young teen, ostracized by her classmate. To fight her loneliness she identifies with Jane Eyre, doing her best to close a blind eye on the bullying around her weight. The story is touching and I am sure many teens will identify with the utter sense of alienation and deep desire for friendship of Helen.
Like I said before, the art is wonderful. I absolutely loved the pencil work of Arsenault and would love to have some of those pages on my walls. I am a big fan of soft lines, sketching like panels, pastel colours, personal illustrations and those ones really talked to me. I was immediately drawn to the atmosphere they created, both cocooning, in their blurry edges, but sad in their monotonous tone, and then growing brighter as touches of colour started spreading throughout the pages, going through the same transformative journey as our heroine gaining hope. The whimsical style, reminiscent of retro children books, without being it at all, those are deceptively naive and very modern illustrations, served the story wonderfully and gave this graphic novel its depth.
Fanny Britt’s characterisation is spot on, we truly believe Helen is a real little girl, and I loved the Canadian setting. The little references here and there to Montreal were a lovely touch, taking the reader there. Sadly the rest of this read was a bit disappointing for me. It was for a younger audience than I had expected, and I couldn’t help but feel the book was too light. It read very fast and at the same time not much happened. I had difficulty putting importance on the few events in Helen’s life (even though I moved a lot when I was a kid and experienced some very lonely times, meaning I know what it’s like to feel friendless) but while I spent a long time admiring the pictures, the story did not stick with me. I would have liked to see more scenes between Helen and her mother, rather than most of the allusions to her love for her. Because in a calm way, the mother seems to be the one that keeps her daughter from despair. But at the same time she seems blind to the distress of Helen. It would have been nice to see more interaction.
The whole book was also more grounded than I had wanted. I would have enjoyed more magical realism and the glimpses of the fox wasn’t quite enough for me. But in a way this might be more what teens feeling lonely need: a realistic ray of sunshine breaking the grey depression. I don’t know, I liked fantasy as escapism from the youngest age.
The art of Isabelle Arsenault on the other hand is amazing and makes me want to follow the artist closely. I would recommend this read to socially awkward 13 year olds and preteen girls who love to read and might be motivated to plunge into classics. This might just be the nudge they need to crack open Jane Eyre.