Jane, the Fox and Me is a graphic novel by Fanny Britt, illustrated by the marvelous Isabelle Arsenault, but it feels like something different. The trim size of Jane, the Fox and Me is big, like a picture book. The handwritten text shifts from block letters to cursive to a delicate font just as the story shifts between worlds when Hélène, the young hero of the story, moves between the worlds of school, home and her inner life, fueled by her literary explorations that shape how she sees the world. Like the grey and sepia tones of most of Aresnault's illustrations, Hélène's worlds are bleak. School is a lonely landscape where she is taunted by mean girls. Flashbacks reveal that it wasn't always this way, once she had friends and was part of a group of girls who loved shopping vintage stores for crinoline dresses. Home is not much better, with her younger twin brothers and her overworked mother. Escape comes in the pages of Jane Eyre and the world of Thornfield Hall.
Everyone knows that kids are mean and will find (or create) a weakness in another child to prey on. Hélène's former friends ostracize her because of how she looks, writing graffiti on the walls of the bathroom about her weight and body odor. Britt handles this delicate subject with simplicity and honesty that speaks to the core of any girl who was (is) not slender and hopefully opens the eyes to those who are. Britt crystalizes the experience of being overweight when Hélène learns that her class will be going to nature camp, necessitating the purchase of a new swimsuit and her only options are a ruffled, skirted suit and one that is "all black and sad." Hélène sees herself as a sausage in a swimsuit.
Hélène departs, "on a bus to Lake Kanawana with forty kids in shorts, not one of them a friend." The mean girl, fat shaming escalates at camp, where Hélène ends up in the outcasts' tent, believing that the moral of Jane Eyre and her own story is, "never forget that you're nothing but a sad sausage." When things seem at their lowest for Hélène, Géraldine appears and a friend is made. And, while Hélène finally finding a friend again is a wonderful plot thread, I especially appreciated how Britt ends Jane, the Fox and Me, with a visit to the doctor for an annual exam. Stepping on the scale, Hélène sees that she weighs less than the graffiti, but more than last year and claps her hands to her head and shrieks, the way she sees her mother (and the lady in the cereal ad) do when she steps on the scale. She tells the doctor that she is fat and the doctor tells her she is no such thing. Her mother asks where she ever got the idea that she was fat and, in her head Hélène ticks off the many places, including her own mother, but does not say them out loud. She realizes that the less she thinks about what other people say about her, the less it is true. I wish that every lonely, book loving, less that slim young girl could read Jane, the Fox and Me and think less about what is not true.
Source: Purchased at Porter Square Books
in Somerville, MA