The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

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Three stars, read in December 2015.

A middle grade graphic novel about a group of girls who form a “secret art gang,” sneaking out at night to create works of art in public spaces all around their city.  This was disappointing because the premise is awesome, but the delivery is so cliche it’s almost—but not—a parody.

The characters are stereotypes to the point of hyperbole (you can tell just from looking at their legs on the cover above). Drama Jane is basically the teacher from High School Musical, wearing scarves and long shapeless dresses and quoting The Theatre at all times; Smart Jane wears glasses and a pocket protector and actually talks about her “calculations” (yes she actually uses those words). Sporty Jane wears hoodies and ponytails, and plain Jane is our protagonist—a formerly popular girl who moves from the city to the suburbs, but since a recent traumatic event has made her cynical about the hierarchy of high school popularity, she’s now rejecting all that and just wants to be a loner.

Then there’s Cindy, the popular girl at the new school:

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You see what I mean.

Trivial question: Are teenagers from anytime in the past twenty years likely to be named Kim or Cindy?? Kim was a very 90s name—meaning the Kims were born in the 80s—and Cindy is even older; it was most popular on babies born in the 60s and 70s. Yes, I actually looked this up. It’s not even a question of what names were most popular at the time this was published—it’s more that they chose two names that are specifically not what the popular girl would probably be named. I don’t know, it’s not important, just weird.

I read a review that called this “a well-intended piece of adolescent lit whose modest charms threaten to be overwhelmed by its status as a Significant Publishing Event: DC Comics’ much-touted attempt at snagging the long elusive tween- & teen-girl audience,” and I feel like that explains a lot. I definitely plan to read more by Cecil Castellucci, but we’re off to a bit of a lackluster start.

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