By Cynthia Ayala
“History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville’s past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girl–we’ll call her Jane Doe. Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane’s darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herself–from past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.” —Goodreads
The History of Jane Doe is a thoughtful read as it explores the history of one Jane Doe through the perspective of her boyfriend Ray who seeks to uncover why she took her own life and what signs he missed. It is a story that is almost reminiscent of 13 Reasons Why because it is telling a story, it is giving readers history and narrative of this one girl who took her own life and exploring the factors that may have contributed to it. It has a less ominous tone to it, offering readers a slightly lighter and sarcastic tone. Once again, this story, Jane’s story, is being told through the eyes and perspective of someone who loves her, who cannot reconcile the fact that she has gone, and it is showing how much he is hurting by her death.
It is a poignant way to tell the story because much of the time, people forget that they are going to be leaving and hurting those they love, creating scars and pain they often feel themselves. People forget that as they focus on trying to see the way while they search for the clues and the cues that could have allowed them to help in any way the could have. Sometimes people do not want to be helped, and it is not their fault, it is all in their head, it is their illness that causes them to hide within themselves versus talking. Jane is the perfect example of that. She has all the little signs people can look for, but her façade, her outward performance, and way she puts people off keeps her from getting the help she needs. It’s a sad and tough subject to address, but it’s a topic that has to be addressed, not shunned, and the way the Belanger has told the story, it gives the story an edge, a beautiful and tragic edge that explores not just the subject of suicide but also explores the pain left behind in those loved ones.
The readers can connect to the characters; they can connect to Ray and see the pain as the story goes back and forth from the past, the story he is telling, to his life without her, the therapy session, the carelessness and almost rude way he lives nowadays. However, there’s also a connection. He is not moving on, but he is learning that shunning everyone is not the best way to grieve, it is a repeat cycle that must break. Moreover, eventually, he does, bit by bit, he is evaluating himself, and the story, how he remembers Jane in her snarky glory, showing the sadness in her eyes, it is impressive. Belanger presented a heartbreaking way to tell such a sad and bittersweet story. He uses hindsight and this internal narrative to bring to life the smallest of details. The narratives that propel the plot forward have so much vitality in their language, in their actions and inaction, making both the characters and the story incredibly relatable.
What’s more is the is no room for the reader to get lost. It has a beautiful flow to it as it prepares the story for the reader and builds up the narratives of the story. It goes back and forth, but it is clear how it does so and doesn’t take the reader out of the story because, again, this is a story within a story, which is part of the beauty and part of the reason it is relatable.
The language is beautiful, and the structure of the story grabs the reader and makes them eager to know more about Jane, how Ray saw her, and their happiest memories as a couple, (★★★★☆ | A)