Before and After

BOOK REPORT for The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

Cover Story: How Now, Green Cow?
Drinking Buddy: Yes
Testosterone Level: Frustrated
Talky Talk: Why?
Bonus Factors: Weird Town; Cute Girl, Nerdy Guy
Bromance Status: Misery Loves Company

Cover Story: How Now, Green Cow?

Nice, eye-catching colors with a cameo of the infamous carnivorous green cow of Burgerville. And just in case you forget what the title is…

The Deal:

Ray Green is an awkward high school student with no dates, poor grades, and zero popularity. Ray enjoys collecting the history of his weird Connecticut town, watching slasher movies, and hanging out with this best friend Simon, a ‘vampire’ who only drinks milk. And nothing is ever going to change.

That is, until Jane comes to town. Gorgeous, sarcastic, and kind of a bad-ass New Yorker, she’s going to be one of the most popular people in school. The girls want to hang out with her. The boys want to date her.

Except…for some bizarre reason, she attaches herself to the Ray and Simon group. She’s interested in Ray’s historical tours. She thinks Simon is funny. She sees no interest in hanging out with the cool kids, who suspect a Can’t Buy Me Love scenario. And what’s more…she kind of likes Ray.

But Jane (that’s not her real name) has a dark side. She won’t talk about her past. Her parents fall all over themselves to be nice to Ray, encouraging him to look out for Jane. Sometimes Jane becomes distant and sad. Ray tries to be a good friend, but it’s hard when he doesn’t know where her troubles began. And then, something happens.

The book is divided into alternating chapters: X days before, where Ray is an awkward nerd with an incredible girlfriend; and X days after, where Ray is bitter, alone, and angry. Jane did something on day zero. We’re not immediately told what, but it was obviously nothing good.

Drinking Buddy: Yes

Ray and Simon both really spoke to the nerd in me. They’re both awkward, obsessive, and go on and on about their weird passions. I think all of us can look back at times when we realized that we were probably boring our dates with our stories of our fandoms or other hobbies. I’d love to hear Ray talk about his crazy hometown.

Testosterone Level: Frustrated

When Jane randomly starts hanging out with Ray and Simon, they’re kind of dumbfounded. They’re glad she wants to be friends, they just can’t imagine why. And while they’re happy being her pal, they both secretly wish she was more. And suddenly, she becomes more, at least for Ray. A kid who’s never even kissed a girl is suddenly dating gorgeous Jane! And having a girlfriend like Jane doesn’t hurt Ray’s overall popularity, either.

Of course, due to the ‘after’ chapters, we know this is going to end painfully. All that Ray has left is a lot of anger. Toward Jane, for no longer being there. Toward Simon, who seems to have gotten over her. Toward his father, for abandoning his family. Toward his mother’s new boyfriend, who is just too damn nice. Things were so great! Why did Jane have to ruin everything?

Talky Talk: Why?

That kind of sums of Ray’s whole experience. Why is Jane with him? Why is Jane gone? Why did I say that stupid thing? Why did she think that was funny? Why are her parents so edgy? It was a nice blend of comedy and drama.

The author, who is a high school teacher himself, was guilty of Saved By the Bell Syndrome, where all teachers are either cruel or stupid, but you have to play to your base, I suppose. Also, he named Ray’s therapist Richard Dawson. Seriously? You didn’t Google that?

Survey says: XXX!

Bonus Factor: Weird Town

Ray, Simon and Jane all live in Williamsburg, Connecticut. The town used to be called Burgerville, before they changed it in the ’50s. But to the residents, it will always be Burgerville. Ray is a fountain of knowledge about the town’s checkered past. The cryptid cow, the abandoned mental hospital, the famous criminal residents. Ray will talk your ear off. On the other hand, Jane knows a thing or two about the area that even Ray doesn’t. For instance, her grandmother once organized a famous folk music festival in town.

It’s funny the little secrets small towns have. My own town used to have a brothel and prohibition gang wars and ghosts. Now we don’t even have a coffee shop that’s open in the evening.

Bonus Factor: Cute Girl, Nerdy Guy

Ray is very aware that Jane could do a lot better, boyfriend-wise. And sometimes he gets unattractively paranoid and jealous. But in the long run, he’s just thankful that she’s in his life. Why? Because sometimes nerds (and that includes girl nerds) make the best friends.

Bromance Status: Misery Loves Company

It’s not a book to make you happy, but I still enjoyed it. We’ve all had losses of one form or another.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• A book with a similar theme, Looking for Alaska, by John Green.

• Josin McQuein looks into survivor guilt in Premeditated.

• Can anyone be blamed for a suicide? Lane Davis looks into this in I Swear.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor an autographed copy of The Complete History of Burgerville for writing this review.