Official Summary: Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.
Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.
Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.
My Thoughts: One of my favorite things when I was a kid was choose-your-own-adventure novels. I didn’t read nearly enough of them, but they were always cool. This novel, on the cusp of young adult and new adult, was conceived as a choose-your-own-adventure story for a slightly older crowd. However, when Kristin Cashore couldn’t quite get it to work, she gave all the choosing and adventures to Jane. And, given the intricacies of the plot, this couldn’t have been a better decision.
The novel is split into six parts: the exposition and five different timelines resulting from several mysteries introduced in the exposition. At the end of part one, Jane is faced with five choices and each section following chronicles the consequences of each choice.
This novel is a study in character, plot, and magical realism. It also contains a lot of diversity. There was very little about this novel I didn’t like. Jane, Unlimited, Cashore’s first novel since the conclusion of the Graceling Realms series, is a triumph and a culmination of countless possibilities. Given how genius the writing and plot-weaving is, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Kristin Cashore is utterly limitless too.
The characters of this story are dynamic and popped right off the page. They are quirky, but their quirks fit the bizarre, off-kilter atmosphere of the book. Jane is a young, grieving college drop-out who finds comfort in the strange. She creates umbrellas as art pieces and has a tattoo of a jellyfish. She’s inquisitive and a little nosy, always searching for answers and putting herself in situations she doesn’t need to be involved in. She’s stubborn and always says what’s on her mind. She is the perfect character to follow for a third-person choose-your-own-adventure story. She’s just the right amount of bold and curious, an amalgamation of her aunt Magnolia, Winnie the Pooh, the Doctor, and her own fundamental Jane-ness.
The Thrash family is a colorful set, each family member a distinct person and conflict. Kiran is glamorous, but kind. She’s intelligent and shrewd, but lacks ambition. She spends many of her arcs in this book (because yes, each section contains its own character arc for everyone) lost and finding a version of herself she either loves or hates. She’s an enigma, and yet she wears her heart on her sleeve. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), she still finds it in her heart to invite a sad, young orphan to her island mansion for a gala. Out of all the characters, she’s the one I could see myself falling in love with.
Ravi, her twin brother, is a connoisseur of art. He’s a promiscuous flirt, and a mercurial grump. When he cares, he cares deeply and totally. He knows how to charm, but he also knows how to alienate. He’s an opposing force, conflicting only with himself.
Octavian is a ghost, depressed over the disappearance of his wife. There’s a certain flimsiness and desperation that follows him whenever he’s on the page. Anita is a theoretical physicist, always treating the people she meets as a scientific study. She oddly reminds me of Ms. Frizzle, boldly claiming the ability to do the impossible and then actually doing the impossible.
Charlotte, Octavian’s second wife, is far more spiritual than the others. She cares deeply about the house, willing to do anything for its health. However, she is surrounded by mystery. In a way, the Thrash family is the personification of the already personified house.
The Yellan siblings, lifelong servants of the mansion, are a study in contrast. While both are sedated people, they portray this in different ways. Ivy’s first love is words, but she hates to lie. She’s crafty and secretive, and yet somehow the most honest of the bunch. Patrick is caring, and yet is far better at hiding the truth than Ivy. Both often have a single-minded fixation on one thing or person, but aren’t always able to do anything about it. And yet, I would consider them both the heart of the story.
Mr. and Mrs. Vanders are also members of the Tu Reviens staff, yet they seem to run the place more than the Thrash family (especially Mrs. Vanders). Mr. Vanders can be a bit of a curmudgeon, but he’s the friendlier of the two. Mrs. Vanders is bossy and moody, and yet she cares deeply about what she does and who she does it for. Their son Cook (short for Corcoran), is not the house chef, and yet he wears a chef’s uniform for irony’s sake. Not much more is known about him but, if he’s anything like his parents, the Tu Reviens inhabitants have another thing coming.
Jane is not the only guest staying at the house for the gala. There is also Lucy St. George, Ravi’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She’s a private investigator, specializing in going undercover to retrieve stolen art. She is always very clever and up for a debate. Colin Mack, Lucy’s cousin and Kiran’s boyfriend, is condescending and, well, a prick. Even when he means well, he can’t help but mansplain. Philip Okada is a pediatrician, and also very shady. Phoebe, his wife, is his first defender, but she also has secrets of her own. In fact, it seems like everyone has secrets. Even Aunt Magnolia.
The aforementioned Aunt Magnolia, though deceased, is a heavy presence in this novel. She raised Jane from infancy, so her eccentricities live on in Jane. She was an underwater photographer, and always had a sense of wisdom about her. This is evident not only in flashbacks, but in how Jane views the world. She views it through the lens of Aunt Magnolia, always Magnolia. Her unique perspective affects how you read the novel, an inhuman character not unlike Jasper the dog and the house itself.
Jasper, despite being a dog, is very important to the story. His machinations often dictate where Jane will go next, and he seems to have a preternatural awareness of everything. Tu Reviens is very much the same. It affects Jane and the other inhabitants, and reveals its mysteries as it goes. The human characters wouldn’t be who they were without the house. And yet, by that same token, Tu Reviens wouldn’t be what it is without the humans who reside within its walls.
The plot of this novel is carefully woven, each story in direct relation to the others. Hints for the other mini-plots are dropped in each section, providing for a broader picture of all the mysteries and schemes going on at the house over the course of a weekend. However, each section seems like its own genre: the first, a contemporary; the second, a mystery; the third, a heist; the fourth, magical realism; the fifth, science fiction; and the sixth, fantasy. While I enjoy some sections more than others, they all tie together really well. Cashore put years of work and dedication into this intricate plot and it shows.
This novel focuses on themes of loss, deception, and identity. Jane and Octavian deal with some very real grief in different ways. Jane follows her inner mantra, “What Would Aunt Magnolia Do,” while Octavian hopes desperately to join his missing wife.
Every character practices deception on some level or another, whether for personal reasons or the greater good. On the other side of that coin, the betrayal felt due to the deception is also explored. Different characters respond to different betrayals in different ways.
And then, of course, the very identity of these characters is explored in how they react to each varying reality they are thrust into, especially Jane. Just because the arc is different, does that mean the character is? The thesis of the novel seems to be that, no, there is still something fundamentally the same about each character in each timeline. These themes tie together and really help explain what makes each of these characters tick.
When it comes to genre, this novel is hard to place. Even the more “realistic” sections retain a touch of the fantastical. And yet, magical realism only really adequately explains one. But really, that’s part of the curious, magical atmosphere of the novel. It helps bring clarity and honesty to each mystery, and explains how each could exist in the same world at the same time. Because, make no mistake, even though only one is fully explored at a time, they all exist together. Cashore was very careful to choose just the right mysteries and just the right genres for each section, culminating in one of the most complex books I’ve ever read.
There was also an abundance of diversity in this novel. From sexualities to race to disabilities, this novel covers a wide range of intersections. Jane is queer, though her exact sexuality is never defined. The implication is that she experiences multiple gender attraction, but nothing more concrete than that is given.
Ravi also experiences multiple gender attraction, though again his is not defined. Ivy is queer as well, and the implication for her is that she’s a lesbian because when Jane asks why Ravi doesn’t hit on her, Ivy coyly responds, “he knows better.” And, of course, there is a budding relationship (or, at least, a mutual crush) between Jane and Ivy.
Kiran and Ravi are half-Indian, as their mother is Indian. They also speak Bengali. The Vanders family is black. Philip Okada is East Asian (though I cannot remember which country specifically—I think he’s Japanese, but I’m not positive).
Octavian and Kiran both suffer from depression, as explicitly stated in the novel. All of these diverse intersections are explored to at least some degree throughout the book. The representation is handled with as much care as the plot and character development.
However, as much as I loved this book, these were a few things I didn’t like. I disliked that the third person narrative was written in present tense. Technically it’s not wrong and it does fit with the choose-your-own-adventure concept, but it feels strange. It reads awkwardly at first, which takes you out of the story a little bit.
I also didn’t care for the last section very much. While the plot twist was well-foreshadowed, the overall story in this one was just strange. I am perfectly willing to accept multiple universes in this setting, but a whole different world? That strained incredulity. Maybe I’ll enjoy it better on reread, but it felt a bit like a different novel in the direction it took. However, these issues weren’t enough for me to lower my rating.
This book, the first book Kristin Cashore has released since the Graceling Realms ended in 2012, was well worth the wait. The characters are endearing and realistic, the plot is ingenious, the themes are poignant, and the diversity is incredible. The humor is on point, and the series scenes never come across melodramatic. Although I had a couple issues with it, overall it was an excellent read. If you’re feeling burnt out on the same tired old tropes and cliches of young and new adult literature, then this is one 2017 release you have to read. You, and every universe’s version of you.
My Rating: 5/5
4 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Adventure: A Review of “Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore”
I’ve heard good things a number of times about this book – about time I caved in and purchased it… not that I’m swaying to peer pressure or anything 😉 Loved your insightful review, it was the tipping point in my decision. Always enjoy reading your posts.
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Thank you so much!
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