Book Review: See Jane Run

Book Review: See Jane Run by Hannah Jayne

See Jane Run17-year-old Riley lives a comfortable life with her loving (although stiflingly overprotective) parents, until the day she accidentally discovers a birth certificate for a girl named Jane tucked away inside her own baby book — a baby book that seems to start when Riley is three years old. Riley and her best friend Shelby laugh it off at first, coming up with goofy, ridiculous explanations, but as weird coincidences and creepy occurrences start to pile up, Riley becomes more and more convinced that her parents are hiding a secret.

With the help of the school bad boy, J. D. (who is, of course, hot but misunderstood), Riley sets off to find out more about Jane O’Leary — but comes up blank. There are no records, and an Internet search comes up with no results. But someone seems to know that Riley is searching, and what started out as a puzzle takes on a much more sinister tone. Is Riley being watched? Are her parents lying? Are they even really her parents? Who can be trusted? With each clue, Riley’s seemingly safe world crumbles a bit more, until real danger intrudes and threatens not just Riley, but everyone she cares about.

See Jane Run in many ways feels like a throwback to the late 1980s/early 1990s. Adult readers who grew up in those years will instantly be reminded of Caroline B. Cooney’s A Face on the Milk Carton (which is referenced in promotional materials for See Jane Run), as well as Lois Duncan’s Don’t Look Behind You. As in both of these books, the main character in See Jane Run finds herself forced to confront questions about her own identity, where she belongs, and whether she can rely on her parents — either for safety or for the truth.

The clues in See Jane Run mount quickly, and it’s not too difficult to see where the story is going — or so we’re led to believe, until a last-minute twist changes the outcome and makes the ending both more surprising and more disturbing than we might have expected.

Riley herself is not all that inspiring a main character. She flips back and forth between taking an active approach and letting events wash over her, and she seems to be oddly inexperienced for a girl of 17. Her parents keep her isolated, but this doesn’t entirely make sense. They live in a remote new neighborhood that’s still under development, perhaps in an effort to avoid the prying eyes of neighbors — yet Riley attends public school, has a best friend, and goes about her life during the day, so she’s not exactly unknown either. Riley’s mother gives her an anti-anxiety pill each morning, but Riley isn’t allowed to see the bottle. But why? And why does she not think twice about this and all the other weirdness about her parents until the events in this book?

Then there’s the issue of J.D. He’s got a reputation as a juvenile delinquent, but Riley sees something special in him and he seems to really like Riley. Or is there something darker and creepier going on? As with many other YA novels, the Riley/J.D. plot thread feels somewhat like an obligatory attempt to squeeze a romance into a story that doesn’t really need one.

See Jane Run is a fast read, although the pacing is a bit uneven. Scenes of great excitement and danger move along well, but there are also chapters that feel like a slog through malls, diners, and endless car or train rides. Overall, the book held my interest, despite explanations that felt rushed and unsatisfying and a not-quite-convincing wrap-up.

I suppose you could write a whole essay on why teen girls are drawn to books about false identities and parents hiding the truth from their children. Is it the danger? The sense that parents can’t be trusted? Maybe it’s the need to remake oneself during the teen years that makes the idea of a secret other life so appealing. In any case, it seems that this type of story will always be intriguing to young adult readers, and See Jane Run fits nicely on the shelf with those earlier thrillers.

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The details:

Title: See Jane Run
Author: Hannah Jayne
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley

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