Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a popular lady in the young adult realm. Lots of likable YA heroines read about her—mopes like Bella Swan tend to prefer Wuthering Heights—and most YA readers,* regardless of age have either read the novel or watched one of the many, many film adaptations.**
It’s no surprise that she’s so popular. After all, her story has a lot of the elements that we enjoy in teen fiction: mean girls, an unattainable-and-brooding love interest, an evil guardian, school as Hellmouth, tragic death, flights of fancy, family secrets, mystery, romance, betrayal, heartbreak, sacrifice, and (thank goodness), a happy ending.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on Julie Kagawa's 'The Immortal Rules.'
We’ve seen Jane Eyre used as a romantic guidebook and re-written as a contemporary romance. She’s been kidnapped from her own book (the Thursday Next series is marketed to the adult audience, but is very popular with literary-leaning YAs), and although Jane was absent, Mrs. Rochester made an appearance in Cara Lockwood’s Wuthering High. Now in Eve Marie Mont’s A Breath of Eyre we have a heroine who not only closely studies the book and notices the parallels to her life, but who gets ZAPPED INTO THE BOOK ITSELF. And by zapped, I mean ZAPPED—the first time it happens, she’s just been struck by lightning.
Like any other readers, reviewers don’t always see eye-to-eye, or Eyre-to-Eyre. While Kirkus really liked this book, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I’d hoped I would. First, though, the positives. It’s satisfying to see Emma’s opinion about the characters change as she experiences Jane’s life in person, and to see how those interactions change the relationships in her real life. Turns out, being bossed by Mr. Rochester doesn’t make her swoon, it makes her cranky—and that makes her rethink her romantic feelings for her English teacher. Even better, her interaction with Bertha Rochester makes her not only revisit her feelings about her own family history, but also rethink her opinion of the book as a whole. All of that I enjoyed.
So, what’s my problem, right? I have a few. For one, until Emma’s experience as Jane diverges from the Brontë, the sections set at Thornfield read very similarly to the original. Now, I love Jane Eyre, but if I feel like reading Jane Eyre, then I’m going to go ahead and read, you know, Jane Eyre. So those sections plodded. Secondly, the contemporary storyline is so over the top—Emma has a brush with death, like, every other day. All the major characters have Some Major Drama going on, so much so that it strains credulity. The secondary characters are mostly two-dimensional: the Mean Girl, the Chip-On-Her-Shoulder-Roommate, the Nice Guy, the Brooding Love Interest, the Shallow-Or-Is-She?-Stepmother. And Emma’s romance with Gray...well, I didn’t do any swooning. Nutshell? I enjoyed the idea of the book more than I enjoyed actually reading it.
A Breath of Eyre appears to be the first in a series, but I would infinitely prefer another book in Cara Lockwood’s Bard Academy series. Bard Academy leans more Scooby-Doo, while A Breath of Eyre leans more Capital-L Literary, but despite the B-movie trappings, I poked less holes in Wuthering High than I did in A Breath of Eyre. Not to mention swooning more, laughing more, caring more and turning pages faster.
**That BBC miniseries with Ruth Wilson as Jane? Hoo boy. Steam city.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.