Jane Re has never fit in anywhere. She stands out like a sore thumb in her Korean neighborhood in Flushing, Queens: too tall, too pale, too desperate to be anywhere else. Half-American, half-Korean and wholly uncomfortable in her own skin, Jane chafes against the expectations in her aunt and uncle's household, where she's lived since she was orphaned as a baby. She's not happy working as a clerk and sometimes-accountant in her uncle's tiny grocery store, and she struggles with the strict rules and complicated social mores (Korean culture calls it nunchi) that have always made her feel like an outsider. When her fancy job at a Manhattan financial firm disappears before she can even start, she finds herself in the same situation as thousands of other recent college grads: underemployed and living at home. And while finance jobs are few and far between, Jane lucks upon an au pair job in Brooklyn that she snatches up since it gives her the chance to move out of her aunt and uncle's tiny apartment. It also comes with its own challenges, like how to manage the crush she develops on her charge's father. Jane's story hops from New York to Seoul and back again as we see her grow into her own skin and gain some valuable insight into her family that changes the way she sees her uncle and herself.
Park's book is a witty look at what it's like to grow up with a foot in two cultures while never really identifying with either. It's also a humorous and honest take on the transition from college student to full- fledged adult that will resonate with anyone who's found themselves with a degree in hand and no real idea about what to do next. Jane Re is a modern-day retelling of Jane Eyre, with some very intriguing changes. For starters, Professor Beth Mazer isn't crazy and locked in the attic, though her husband Ed Farley is a pretty convincing stand- in for Mr. Rochester, with his mood swings and general churlishness. Jane Eyre fans be forewarned: it's not a faithful retelling of the classic, but it's fun to see where the it matches up and then diverges from its inspiration.
Reviewed by ba, 5/15. Other reviews by ba.