by Eve Marie Mont
March 27, 2012
Mature Content: minor language and drinking
Source: purchased from independent bookstore
I love Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. So I was excited to read Breath of Eyre, and a little nervous as well. I think that Jane -- a plain looking orphan with a strong will and a rich inner life who ends up in love with her employer, a dashing yet troubled older man with a horrible secret -- can be a tough character to translate to modern times.
But Breath of Eyre is not a retelling. It's a very interesting hybrid of a book -- sort of paranormal, and kind of time-traveling. I'll try to explain:
My summary: Emma, whose mother died and father remarried, attends an all-girls boarding school in Massachusetts as a scholarship student. Emma daydreams about her tragically divorced English teacher and about Gray, the attractive son of her mom's college roommate. Grey attends Braeburn, a nearby boys' school, and dates the prettiest and richest of Emma's classmates. For her sixteenth birthday, Gray's mom gives Emma a copy of Jane Eyre, which she begins reading.
One night, Emma and her new roommate Michelle sneak over to Braeburn for a party. On their way back, Emma is struck by lightning. When she wakes up, she's Jane Eyre. She meets Mrs. Fairfax, who looks an awful lot like her French teacher at school. She meets Adele, Rochester's ward, who looks like Gray 's younger sister. Then she meets Rochester, who looks like ... Rochester. (Ha! I bet you thought I was going to say the English teacher. Or Gray.)
Emma is just beginning to adjust to her new reality when she wakes up in the present, in the hospital, confused about what's happened to her. She's not sure why can speak fluent French. She's sent to a psychiatrist. She feels more and more drawn to Grey. But she still thinks about Rochester. She finishes reading Jane Eyre, and isn't entirely satisfied with the ending. Emma's roommate, Michelle, is Haitian, and Michelle's aunt gives Emma the card of a voodoo spirit guide, printed with an incantation. She uses it and ends up back in Jane Eyre again. Like the fictional Jane, she ends up engaged to Rochester. The story then takes a bit of a strange turn, incorporating Emma's dead mother into the mix in a manner I'm still pondering. At this point, Emma must make a choice: will she stay in the past, or return to face her present?
My take: A Breath of Eyre is a complex and original story. Eve Marie Mont does an interesting thing by dropping a modern girl into Jane Eyre -- twice -- and having her try to make sense of it all. Emma is a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the book is filled with well-drawn secondary characters. Mont is an inventive and skillful writer -- I loved her description of Gray as looking like "a medieval monk trapped in the body of a Marine."
I also liked the way she blended in just a touch of the paranormal to explain the way that Emma is able to enter the world of Jane Eyre on two separate occasions. I'm not sure if it's true that being struck by lightning can result in strange new abilities, but ... why not? Works for me. I'm still not sure how I feel about the role played by Emma's dead mother, and I can't really explain without a spoiler. If you read the book, email me and let's talk!
Breath of Eyre includes an except from Mont's next book in the series, A Touch of Scarlet. It looks like Emma's going to be spending more time in the past. Seventeeth-century Boston, to be exact. I have to say, The Scarlet Letter isn't my favorite classic (especially when compared to the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen) but I've become enough of a fan of Eve Marie Mont's creative plotting and winning characters that I will definitely check it out!
YA Romantics Trivia:
In a nod to Jane Eyre, this 2007 YA fairy tale retelling featured a blind character with a dog named Pilot. Can you name the book?
If you want to enter my Dystopia Mania giveaway, you need to get your entries in by midnight tonight EST!