I stumbled across Patricia Park’s debut novel Re Jane while looking through reading lists saying what should have been on this year’s (not surprisingly) all-white cast of New York Times recommended summer books. And I have to say, that it is a kind of ideal summer read — based loosely on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (which I confess to not having read) — it follows Jane Re, a mixed-race Korean-American orphan, as she steps into the “real world” after graduating from college. It’s a story about family, romance, friendship, choices, that kind of thing that we like reading about–and it’s written about in a fresh and lively style.
I may be a little bit biased because this is a very New York book, and I am writing this from New York, but I hope that the kind of endearing descriptions of the 7 train and the chaos of trying to find yourself in a big city are equally endearing to those without insider knowledge of New York City’s geographic quirks and layouts. And of course, this story is much more than location, as Jane tries to balance between her upbringing under her uncle’s strict tutelage and her desire to escape from that life. She takes a job as an au pair to a Brooklyn family with an adopted Chinese daughter, and suddenly finds herself in a new kind of family environment.
Shifting back and forth between different micro-worlds, Jane’s voice is full of thoughtfulness and spunk. As she navigates feeling out of place in nearly every situation she finds herself in, her characters shows resilience and humor.
A family death sees her leaving New York for Korea, faced anew with family and a culture she partially fits into. Throughout, Park’s writing pulls threads of Korean language and culture, mimicking Jane’s travels between Queens and Brooklyn, Seoul, and Pusan, and back again–be it jung or tap-tap-hae.
Re Jane was a pleasure to read, the perfect train, beach, or plane book (or plain book). The characters are complicated and relatable. Per an impressive array of author reviews, its an innovative take on Jane Eyre (I’m only sorry not to be able to comment on that, maybe next time). So take a ride on the 7.