The Private Life of Jane Maxwell by Jenn Gott is a unique take on your classic superhero novel. As a comic book geek in my teens and twenties, I love a good superhero story. But unfortunately, since discovering lesfic over the past decade, I don’t see nearly enough books in this genre. The ones that are coming out tend to run a bit darker than I like, to be honest.
This novel seems straightforward enough from the beginning. Jane Maxwell is a comic book artist who has created a hugely popular comic book series. Her team, the Heroes of Hope, were modeled after her own childhood friends. Even their origin story where they get the powers from an explosion at an abandoned factory were based on true events. But Jane’s life isn’t so super. A grieving widow, and recently fired from her job, the last thing she needs is to be pulled into an alternate universe where not only are her heroes real, but so too is the danger.
There a few noticeable differences. In her comic books, Captain Lumen is the team leader and was modeled off her best friend Cal. She wanted it to be her, a woman, but the comic publisher wouldn’t go for it. But in the alternate universe where her stories seem to be real, Captain Lumen is exactly how she imagined her to be. Captain Lumen is Jane…but their Jane is missing. With the original Captain Lumen kidnapped by the deadly UltraViolet, they pull Jane (the artist) into their world as a stand-in, to buy some time. But even stand-in’s need to train and learn to use their powers when it’s discovered that they exist. What makes the entire endeavor even more complicated is that one of her new teammates, Mindsight, is none other than her dead wife. But they weren’t married in the alternate universe, they weren’t even together. And while the reality of her wife’s death blurs with the alternate reality of Mindsight’s existence for Jane, Mindsight herself has always been in love with Captain Lumen. It’s exhausting trying to battle UltraViolet and the grief of her own memories, Jane wonders if she can truly live up to her new title.
Okay, Jane Maxwell (the artist) is a wimp. But then, I think most people would have the reactions that she does when faced with unbelievable and traumatizing situations. I think that’s what struck me most about this novel is that Gott doesn’t write her hero as ‘super’, because Jane Maxwell was never super. She was a nerdy little comic book artist trying to navigate her grief and everyday life. She has human reactions when she’s pulled into a team of ‘real’ heroes. She screams, cries, and freezes in terror, and she’s all but helpless in the face of the real villains. As for the other members of the Heroes of Hope, they also come across as a little bit more human than I am used to seeing. I like that realism, and I think it served to draw me into the story better than some other books of the same genre. Jane seemed true, good, honest, and believable. She always had the makings of a hero.
It could have been confusing with the doppelganger issues between the main character’s old world and the new one, but the author did a great job making sure it wasn’t.
The Writing Style
The flow of the book was fast paced from start to finish. Some of it was due to the action involved with training and fighting the villains. Some could be attributed to the mystery that unravels the further in you read. Where is the real Captain Lumen? How was Jane able to write a comic series that so closely matched real events on the alternate world? And who is UltraViolet and what are her plans? And in the midst of the training, fighting, clue drops, you also have this unfolding sense of connection between Jane and Mindsight, who is her dead wife’s doppelganger.
Now the writing style for this book is different. It’s told in first person which really highlights Jane’s fear, confusion, and frustration with the situation. But, Gott writes the novel in such a way that the reader never forgets that Jane Maxwell is a comic book artist more than she’s ever been a hero. The scenes are set and imagined through the eyes of an artist. Images, reactions, and action are uniquely described as if Jane were drawing them as part of a comic book. The stroke of a brush here, a splash of color there, or even speech bubbles imaged above the people around her as the plot unfolds. It’s a unique way of writing the first person character and my inner hobby artist and comic book collector selves adored it.
I loved the world that Gott created with her heroes. There was a realism that you sometimes don’t see with either the comics or the popular superhero movies and TV shows that are out today. Yes, the shows can be “dark”, but that darkness doesn’t necessarily make them more real. It’s the way Gott writes Jane’s reactions to the events, and the way the people of the alternate universe either believe the heroes help them, or think the heroes are kids in tights. I think you’d see that in real life where some want to hold onto hope and others are skeptics to the extreme. I also loved the artist style of painting the scenes for the reader. How each panel would look as things come to pass, the exact expression drawn on someone’s face as they’re shot or learn some bit of awful news. I could see them almost as if I were reading the novel in the form of a beloved comic book. The bonus was that the writing scrolled smoothly and the artistic impressions of the action didn’t interrupt the flow for me.
I’ll admit that I wish the main character had been just a little tougher, because I’d like to think that I myself would have been tougher. I also tend to like my heroes of the ‘perfect and brave’ variety. But I realize that not everyone reacts to things the same way. I know others who would have just curled into a ball had they been in Jane Maxwell’s shoes. And because the main character’s imperfections lent perfectly to the storyline (which I loved) I had no serious cons for this book. But as a fair warning, read the “read inside” portion of any book when it’s available. I know that not everyone will enjoy Gott’s particular writing style for this novel, despite the fact that I loved it.
Do you love comic books or a good hero vs villain tale? For those of you that are artists, you may find particular pleasure in the more graphic descriptions as Jane takes in each new scene and situation. And by graphic, I don’t mean in the harsh, bloody, or mature content way. I mean, describing how the scene would look if one turned it into a comic book with multiple panels used to tell a story. Where action and physical movement is depicted with thick black lines and emotions are frozen faces on the page for all to see. This book is titled as being the first of a series, though the ending does resolve for the most part. Of course someone always gets away to start trouble again, and there is a…sad kind of note too. But both minor things could be potentially resolved in a book 2. In and of itself, this book is complete and a highly entertaining read.
The Private Life of Jane Maxwell did a great job of drawing a line between the comic book reality and the reality of good fiction. Perhaps my wistful wish for slightly different bits was only in response to the fact that I kept switching hats all throughout the book. That of the nerdy comic reader for the nerdy fiction reader. But both were happy in the end. I can’t wait to read the next one that Jenn Gott puts out. This is one of my favorites because it gets multiple tags from me. #Think #Feel #Discuss
Excerpt from The Private Life of Jane Maxwell by Jenn Gott
“So listen,” Cal said as he clicked his signal light on. He was shifting lanes, making way for a large white semitruck just getting on from the entrance ramp. “Before we get there, we should probably go over our cover story.”
Jane turned. Cal’s powder-blue polo shirt and prep-boy shorts were reflecting so brightly that she almost had to shade her eyes just to look at him. “What cover story?”
“I just don’t think that it’s the best idea to tell your mom that the real Jane’s missing. Ow!”—Cal turned, his eyes off of the road for several terrifying heartbeats as he glared at Amy behind him—“What’s that for?”
“This Jane is just as real,” Amy said, which was sweet, though Jane only sort of heard her; she’d grabbed the console in front of her the instant Cal’s attention drifted, her knuckles turning white. Jane tried to keep her breathing steady, willing her heart to calm back down.
Though Cal was focused on merging back into the right lane, Amy noticed as Jane pried her fingers free and returned her hands to her lap.
“Are you okay?” Amy asked.
Jane forced a nod, and a shaky smile. “I . . . get nervous in cars.”
“Oh,” Amy said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.”
Jane tried to shrug it off, though she couldn’t bring herself to look at Amy. “No, well, why would you?” Jane asked. You’re from another world, one where you never fell into a coma after flipping your car in the tunnel coming home.
“Can we get back to the cover story?” Cal asked. They were cruising straight again, just another gleaming silver fish in a school headed toward the shoreline. “We’re going to need some other excuse for bringing Jane home.”
“Wait, ‘home’?” Jane reached over, abruptly turning off the car’s stereo. “I thought that we were going to Charlotte’s Landing. The first hideout.”
“Um, we are?” Cal said. “I don’t know where it is in your world—or, well, your comics, I guess, if we’re going to believe that. But here, it’s always been in the basement of Captain Lumen’s house.”
“Captain Lumen,” Jane repeated. Her voice was dead, and she leaned back against the seat’s headrest with a groan. “God, you don’t really mean to tell me that I lived there?”
“Don’t sound so happy about it,” Cal said.
Amy cleared her throat. “It’s a lovely place, Jane. Very nice.”
“Yeah,” Devin said with a snort, “if you like water polo and racism.”
Cal rolled his eyes. “You make everything about race.”
“Everything is about race, White Boy.”
“Whatever,” Cal muttered. “So does anyone have any suggestions? I don’t think that Mrs. Maxwell is going to be thrilled that we’re out here rather than dashing out to rescue her husband.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Devin said, chuckling under his breath. Jane frowned. She caught Devin’s eye in the rear-view mirror. “You mean they’re still married?”
Devin shrugged. “If you can call it that.”
“More important than the cover story,” Amy said, leaning forward, “is probably how to handle the . . . well, the fight. Especially if Jane’s going to be posing as our Jane. It’s going to make it harder.”
“Mm,” Devin said. Cal’s mouth set into a hard line, his brow creasing as he stared straight ahead.
Jane looked back and forth between all of them. “Are you really going to make me ask?”
Amy sighed. “Jane hasn’t spoken to her mother in over a year.”
“No one knows. She wouldn’t talk about it.”
“Great,” Jane said. She threw her hands up. “That’s just great. So basically what you’re telling me is that I am supposed to convince my mother—who’s not my mother, by the way—that I am her daughter, here to . . . what? Make amends or something? Without even knowing what it is we were fighting about?”
“Sorry,” Amy said. “But . . . well, yes. That’s more or less it.”
Jane turned away from them. She leaned her forehead against the window, her glasses clanking and skewing crookedly on her face.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9780692731505
- Publisher: Indie Author
Jenn Gott Online
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