Review: A Breath of Eyre

A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

Y’all remember Lost in Austen, right? It’s a miniseries historically significant because I think it’s the first time a self-insert Mary Sue fanfic has been produced for the screen. I thought it was a total fluke born of some seriously cynical marketing geniuses (I’d say that’s redundant, but that would be mean), and then I encountered A Breath of Eyre. To be fair, it’s not the same—there’s some ambiguity as to whether or not the heroine is actually in the book or it’s all in her head—but I hadn’t expected to find one for Jane Eyre, especially one for the young adult market. Normally I wouldn’t seek it out, but the thesis and morbid curiosity compels me.

A Breath of Eyre follows Emma Townsend, a shy, bookish teenage girl who lives with her distant father and a Southern step-mother who can’t understand her and attends an exclusive private school on scholarship. On her sixteenth birthday, a family friend gives her a copy of Jane Eyre, which she begins to read as she returns to school. As she befriends her new roommate and actually meets boys for once her life (Gray Newman, the cute but brooding guy dating the head cheerleader, is way off limits), she finds herself drawn to Jane’s story, until a lightning storm happens and she wakes up in Jane’s life. Does Emma belong in the novel or in the real world?

If it wasn’t for the fact I love pretty much everyone on Teen Wolf, I’d start to secretly suspect that I hate teenagers. Now, being self-centered isn’t necessarily a bad thing—for instance, Harry Potter is fairly self-focused, which is the legacy of his childhood abuse, and I can understand a shy girl like Emma, who doesn’t have any friends and prefers to read, being more focused on herself. But whereas Rowling manages to make Harry likable by having him, oh, try to improve himself and valuing what few friends he has, Emma doesn’t make the effort. The fact that Emma falls into a category that includes Bella Swann and whatsherface from A Discovery of Witches—“look! she’s bookish and teased and is secretly super-attractive! Just like you!”—is just the icing on the unfun cake. There seems be an emphasis on this sort of identification pandering rather than the character on her own merits. She also annoyed the everloving lights out of me while simultaneously boring me, which is kind of an accomplishment, come to think of it. I can’t summon any rage anymore, because she’s slipped off my mind like so much water off a duck’s back, but my Jane Eyre notes are full of my wrath.

A Breath of Eyre also boasts fairly flat side characters, the most egregious of which is the resident mean girl, who has no redeeming traits at all and only exists as a spiteful obstacle to our protagonist. I can’t communicate how much I hate it when that happens. This novel’s focus on Emma’s unresolved issues over her mother’s death and her friendship with Michelle keep it seeming like it perpetuates the idea that women must compete against each other, but I just… villains, even the mean kids at school, are much more interesting when they have reasons for what they do. When a villain has no depth, it feels… lazy. Additionally, there’s a handful of plot holes and logical missteps. For instance, Emma, despite being a book nerd and Austen fan, has apparently never heard the story of Jane Eyre before ever, flips out on someone after she promises not to, and starts writing a paper cribbed from The Madwoman in the Attic (which she’s never read, to be fair, but then she’s praised for it without being accused of plagiarism) before even finishing Jane Eyre, just to start. It strikes a balance between Emma being a bit big for her britches and Mont trying to hit story beats without backing up to flesh them out.

Now, in Mont’s defense, Emma does actually reject Rochester as a romantic figure in the end, choosing to focus on relationships that support and sustain her. Again, Emma’s unresolved issues over her mother’s death are the actual focus on the novel, which I really appreciated. There’s a faint critical slant here, which I think is always important for young readers and is a welcome change in my research for my Jane Eyre paper. But the rest of the novel is so undercooked and occasionally insulting to the reader’s intelligence that I can’t possibly recommend it.

Bottom line: A Breath of Eyre is an undercooked novel that occasionally insults its readers, despite its admirable treatment of female autonomy. Pass.

I bought this book from Amazon.

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