Author: Jean Chen Ho
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Feb. 2022)
I’m really sad to see this isn’t getting the best reviews on Goodreads. On the one hand, I kind of get it, but on the other, I actually really liked it. Fiona and Jane is a short book that spans more than 2 decades, observing the friendship of two Taiwanese-American girls as they flit in and out of one another’s lives. Fiona and Jane were best friends growing up and while they drift apart in their 20’s, they keep coming back to each other through the years. It’s described as being told through short stories, but I didn’t really think they read like short stories, more like a non-chronological retelling of their friendship.
Jane grew up in America and is devastated when her Dad leaves to teach in Taiwan when she’s in high school and never returns. In her anger and youth, Jane makes a decision that has long lasting emotional consequences on who she grows to be. Fiona lived her childhood in Taiwan with her mother and grandparents and eventually moved to LA with her mom, where she met Fiona. The two girls become fast friends, each secretly envying the relationship the other has with their family. The girls make adolescent mistakes and Fiona eventually moves to New York and struggles with the guilt of leaving a friend behind, while Jane struggles with the sadness of feeling abandoned.
It’s not so much a re-telling of their lives as snapshots of them. The plot feels aimless and the timeline can be confusing, so I see why people aren’t loving it. But I love a good character driven novel and I did find it interesting, so the format didn’t bother me and I liked getting to know the flaws of each of these characters. I did want just a little bit more from the narrative though. Props to the author for leaving so much interpretation up to the reader, I do think this can be challenging for debut novelists and I think she lets her readers draw their own conclusions. There is no large catharsis in the storytelling, so while I think it’s accurate to life, it did leave me questioning how the author decided what to include and where to end her story. It’s an interesting read, but I felt it could have used a little bit more depth.
There was just one part of the book that I had to comment on because I found it so weird. The story is told in first person, switching between Fiona and Jane, but for one chapter, it switches to the first person perspective of Fiona’s boyfriend. I found this a bit jarring and I’m not really sure why the author opted to include another viewpoint, for only ~10 pages. It seemed like an odd choice. But overall, I liked the writing style and would give 3.5 stars!