Few authors get me more excited about a release than Kristin Cashore. She’s a wonderful, elegant writer and an excellent storyteller, and her other novels Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue are at the top of my favourite YA fantasy reads.
Cashore's latest novel, Jane, Unlimited, isn’t a fantasy—at least, not entirely. The story isn’t limited to a single genre, just as our experience with Jane isn’t limited to one outcome. In Cashore's words, it's a "kaleidoscopic novel about grief, adventure, storytelling, and finding yourself in a world of seemingly infinite choices." And umbrellas! It was actually raining the day I took pictures for this post, but the ones that included my umbrella kept getting blurry. It's hard taking pictures in the cold spring rain, even if one of your best friends is there to hold an umbrella out for you! (Thank you to Xrystos for his help with this very brief shoot.)
Here’s the official synopsis of Jane, Unlimited:
If you could change your story, would you?
Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”
What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.
I have mixed feelings about this book. One the one hand, I loved the idea behind Jane, Unlimited. I loved the concept of unlimited possibilities, not only as a reader but as a person with her own choices to make. And I loved the writing; Kristin Cashore is a fantastic writer. I can't say it enough.
But there were several parts of the book I struggled with. The biggest, unfortunately, was Jane herself. I cared about her, but I couldn’t bring myself to like her. She wasn't at all a bad person, but I felt like I was constantly rolling my eyes at certain reactions she had and certain decisions she made. Some of it was understandable and I sympathized with her, but other times I just couldn’t relate. For example: her perspective on lying is impossibly black and white. Even if it served as a way to further the plot, it mostly just made me frustrated with her. In a choose-your-own-adventure style story that is essentially Jane's choose-your-own-adventure and we're just along for the ride, I didn't like always having to tag along with Jane. Maybe that makes me a jerk, but so be it.
Also. The multiple endings. It’s not that I didn’t like them—the concept is really cool—but as a reader, going from one “ending” to the next was a lot to take in emotionally. I might like one ending, find another disturbing, and love the third, but the third plays out in a way that leaves out important information that made me like the first ending so much. It’s a tumultuous reading experience, because Tu Reviens is a very, very full house, and one ending cannot contain all the storylines present in the book. Which I totally get, but it still made me sad! This is the kind of book where I wanted a “whole” ending, but it’s also the kind of book where that was 100% not going to happen. Which I can respect. It’s like real life, too. You can’t know everything, and neither can Jane.* But with that respect and admiration for what Cashore accomplished in this novel, I also felt a sense of yearning upon finished Jane, Unlimited.
Another aspect that I felt mixed about (and this will probably sound like the weirdest part to you) was Jane, Unlimited’s diverse cast of characters. It’s not that I didn't want a diverse cast—quite the opposite. Diversity is important and I appreciate authors who write them; I was happy that this book was set in a world close(ish) to our own reality and not exclusively filled with heterosexual white people. Shocker! But I felt like I kept noticing diversity in a way that took me out of the reading experience. I think that’s because it felt… like Cashore was checking off boxes? In a way that felt like she had a Diversity List and wanted to get everything in, and as a result it felt less natural? I don't know. I shouldn't complain, because a diverse cast is still better than a boring/unrealistic cast. It's just something that stayed with me for a bit while reading.
Despite the mix of emotions I had while reading, I actually really liked Jane, Unlimited. It felt good to read a novel as uniquely done as this and it was one of the better books I’ve picked up this year. I’m very glad I bought it, and I'm now eagerly awaiting the next Cashore story! But I’m also not sure who I’d recommend it to. It’s an interesting literary experiment, it’s beautifully written if a bit slow, and it’s essentially a “choose your own adventure" story, but, you know, Jane is the one choosing. Jane, Unlimited is weird and good and unique. It’s a book about possibilities, umbrellas, jellyfish breaths, and discovery. It'll stay with you after you finish it.
Sound like something you’d be interested in?
If you’ve read Jane, Unlimited, let me know what you thought! It’s a really interesting book and like it or not, I’d love to discuss it with you.
*SEMI-SPOILER: Like, Charlotte? Sounds like a no-win situation.