It All Began with Jane Eyre by Sheila Greenwald (1980)

Book review: It All Began with Jane Eyre or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman by Sheila Greenwald (Dell Publishing: A Yearling Book, 1987 [1980])

Franny Dillman doesn’t just read novels – she lives them. After reading Jane Eyre, she sees her school principal as Mr. Rochester, his wife as Grace Poole, and herself as the heroine, Jane Eyre.

Mrs. Dillman, concerned that her daughter is too involved in her reading, brings home some contemporary “problem” novels about other teenagers. Inspired by the heroines in these books, Franny decides to keep a journal. But when her life offers nothing worth writing about, Franny’s imagination takes over – and suddenly she’s smack in the middle of torrid love affairs and bitter divorces.

Has Franny created a fantasy life even she can’t control?

This is a young adult (YA) book I picked up for my quest to read everything Jane Eyre. As it says above, 13-year-old Franny is a bit too obsessed with Jane Eyre and gets in trouble for believing the dean’s wife is mad (the description above contains some mistakes) … So yes, her mum decides she should stop living in a fantasy world and gives her books about the real trials and tribulations of teenagers. However, Franny doesn’t read books – she lives them. And living books about teenage pregnancies, divorces and what have you means she quickly starts perceiving her perfectly ordinary life as an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

Her sister’s best friend, a talented opera singer, is pregnant (obviously) by Franny’s dad (err, obviously?), Franny’s brother is totally in love with said pregnant friend (obviously), and Franny’s sister knows all about her friend’s problem (obviously).

If you like your heroines delusional, this is great reading. If you like your heroines to not be freakin’ insane, look elsewhere. Seriously, Franny was scary. While I love reading and always have, I have never let the line between fact and fiction be blurred. I can tell reality from what I’m reading, which Franny is incapable of.

I can probably relate more to her passion for food, but I’m wondering what on earth her parents are doing to enabling her binges, for want of a better term. Sure, her mum is saying that she needs to watch her weight, but still they bring home lots of junk? It just doesn’t feel right. Girl clearly has issues and needs help. Which detracted from the enjoyment of the book.

The connection with Jane Eyre is really only that Franny is obsessed by it and that she got in trouble when her friend who told another friend who told her mum who told her friend, the dean’s wife, who told the dean who told Franny’s mum, who said she should stop reading it.

Nah, Franny is obnoxious and rude to her friends – sure, she and her friends might only be together because no one else wanted to be with them (can totally relate), but that doesn’t mean she should be such a bitch to them.

Can’t say that I forced myself to finish this book – it’s only 117 pages long – but I was happy it was short just so that the suffering would end. As stories go, this one’s scary, for all the wrong reasons. It was well-written though, and used language I thought was quite advanced for the intended age group. As a parody of teenage angst novels, I have nothing to say, I have never read any (I’m an escapist, not a realist – so to speak), so I can’t say if it works or not. If they’re as disconcerting as It All Began with Jane Eyre, I’m glad I haven’t.

2.6 out of 5 concerned family members.

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