by Sydney Floch
In The History of Jane Doe, Ray and Simon are starting another year of high school in what the locals call Burgerville. The duo plans on sitting alone, just the two of them. One day, Jane, the new girl, sits next to Ray in biology class, changing his life forever. With colored streaks in her dark hair and chunky bracelets all over her wrists, Jane is unlike any girl Ray has ever seen. This is a new beginning for the two as their duo turns into a trio. The three encounter love, mental illness, a new definition of family, and the history in between.
After reading Jane Doe, I had various questions I wanted to ask the author. Coincidentally, Mr. Belanger, a GHS INLAB teacher, penned The History of Jane Doe.
When I asked Mr. Belanger about his inspiration behind the book, he told me, “As a teacher, I’ve seen students go through a lot of things, such as mental illness or loss…One day when I was writing, this teenager voice came into my head.”
A substantial aspect of the book is Jane’s constant battle with depression. Mr. Belanger clarified that one of the reasons that mental illness is such an important motif in the book is due to the fact that mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, were not commonly discussed when he was growing up. “My grandma went through depression, and I didn’t really understand it.”
One character I find extremely intriguing is Jane’s grandmother. She wrote folk music, hosted a festival, and people love her songs. Yet she never became a folk star. Mr. Belanger mentioned that Jane’s grandmother, Irene, was initially supposed to be in only one scene. “Grandma Irene then began to take on such a bigger presence. She became the folk singer who never got out of depression; she had to contend with a difficult illness.”
I was also intrigued as to why Mr. Belanger wrote the book in the first person, from Rayś point of view. In response to my question, he explained: “…I wanted you to understand this teenager’s [Ray’s] pain in his bedroom trying to understand his ex-girlfriend.” Ray loves history, and he proceeds to write a book in both the past, something very familiar to him, which helps him cope with traumatic events, and the present, something that he is starting to understand.
In the book, Ray names this new girl Jane Doe, which is a name used to keep people anonymous. Ever since turning the first page, I have always wanted to know the reason behind her name. Mr. Belanger explained, “I had the name Jane and couldn’t think of anything else…It was a happy accident.”
“Another part of it was also that Ray wants to protect Jane’s privacy,” Mr. Belanger commented. “Depression affects everyone; it can make you feel nameless and faceless.” In the afterword of the book, he wrote, “The world can’t stand to lose another John or Jane Doe”. He explained that this is intended to stop making people feel so anonymous. If you need help, do not be afraid to ask for it. I cannot stress enough how amazing this book is. If you have not read The History of Jane Doe already, please go up to the media center and check a copy out today.