Review: The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

The History of Jane Doe
by Michael Belanger

A poignant, deeply funny coming-of-age story about first love, first loss, and the power of history to give life meaning.

History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville's past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girl--we'll call her Jane Doe.

Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane's darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herself--from past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.
Mixing humor with heartache, this is an unmissable coming-of-age story from an exciting new voice in YA.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication date: June 5th 2018
Source/Format: eARC/Netgalley
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Kobo | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Thoughts:
I want to love “The History of Jane” because I felt the sincerity of the author to say something about loss, grief, guilt, and mental health, but that earnestness does not quite translate into a story that will make me care about it for a long while.

I am not saying that I did not enjoy reading it because I did. In fact, I inhaled the book like there’s no tomorrow. The hook is in the humor of Ray’s voice. Him and his vampire-fiction enthusiast, milk chugger bestfriend, Simon, are really funny. They are the kind of average students whom I would’ve wanted to be friends with in high school. I cannot say the same for Jane, though. I wish there’s more to her. Throughout the book, she is an enigma. She becomes the object of Ray’s unknowable whys as opposed to history, his favorite subject, which is mostly concerned with just the factual who-what-where-when of things.

My mood board for The History of John Doe

The book bounces around the before and after of something unthinkable that happened. The transitions are seamless, I have no problems with the switching timelines. I am not sure if this style is meant to keep the reader guessing as to what actually caused Ray to define a before and after in his young life but the something unthinkable that happened is too predictable. I guessed it right too early and too far away from the actual reveal. Plot-wise, there is really nothing going for it but to go through the motions of Ray's feelings. I wouldn't have continued reading if I wasn’t already invested with the characters.

There are emotional moments here and there but they did not reach the tug at my heartstrings level. What made me finally tear up is a note from the author at the back pages where he mentioned that mental illness is something personal to him and his family. That’s why I said earlier that I knew the author meant well in writing this book. So even though “The History of Jane Doe” was not able to totally pull off what it was trying to say, it gets points for trying.

Diversity Watch:
Ray and Simon are racially indeterminate. Jane is described with a pale face and long black hair streaked with red. Rich, Ray's therapist is black. Mary, a side character is Filipina. Two side characters are closeted gays.
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