“Nice Try, Jane Sinner” Review: Seahawk Summer Book Club

Samantha Dickerson, Lifestyles Assistant Editor

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Warning: There are major spoilers ahead in this review.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is a young adult book about the struggles of growing up and creating yourself, as well as trying to navigate depression and human interaction. It is written by Lianne Oelke and is set in Canada at Elbow River Community College.

Although the first hundred pages give a slow start to the book that might make it challenging for some readers, the overall plot is nuanced and the ending is fairly happy.

The main plot revolves around Jane’s loss of belief in religion and how that affects her mentally, which also manifests itself several times through physical cues as well. Throughout the book, Jane grapples with the religious ideals that she has grown up with versus what she views as rational thought. After she realizes that she is no longer invested in church, she sinks into a massive depression and worries about her family and friends reactions to her feelings.

She decides not to tell her family about her problems, but instead to withdraw from everything that she once loved and not too long after, she attempts suicide. After her attempt, she still refrains from telling everyone how she feels and stops visiting therapy that her high school has mandated for her. She also stops taking her depression medication and gets kicked out of school. This comes with a mixed bag of reactions, and many seniors in her class say that she has completely ruined the end of their high school year, causing her more anxiety about her public image.

After consideration about how she wants her life to turn out and nudging from her family, she then begins attending Elbow River Community College on the one contingent that she can move out of her family home. To support herself on a limited budget, Jane enters in a Big Brother style YouTube reality TV game, called the House of Orange or HOO, in hopes of winning a car and prize money.

Oelke not only uses comedy to open readers hearts, but also uses the book to push the boundaries of the stereotypes that come along with suicide survivors.  “Attention-seeking” and “a need for the dramatic” have all been used negatively to explain possible reasons for suicide. However, Oelke breaks down the true reasons behind the actions taken by Jane in the book and is able to use the often trite diary-style young adult aspect in a fresh way that works for the situation.

In a society that refuses to deal with suicide, this book definitely shines a light on the necessity of taking action and working on treatment for suicide survivors. Oelke shows Jane describing herself as not wanting to “be dead. I just want to stop existing. To take a break from myself.” Jane is a character that cares very deeply about the feelings of her family, and has come through an existential crisis that completely reshaped how she views her world. She is worried about the ideas that are being thrown at her by her friends and peers after her suicide attempt, which is one of the reasons she stops taking her medication and recedes into herself. The book explains that her behavior was not one directed towards others, but directed inwardly in Jane and how she feels about herself.

Although the aspects that dealt with depression were beautifully written, the religious aspects of the book are not well expanded upon and were often hard to read. When Jane delivers her backstory, it is very brief. Readers find that she loved going to church and got along with everyone in youth group, but then she just didn’t believe one day and stopped wanting to go. It is quite literally that quick. Also, throughout the book, we see her throw subtle digs at religious beliefs, although at the beginning of the book she says that she never had a problem with it and enjoyed it very deeply. This leads the reader to believe that she is mad at God, and still believes in God on some level. This seems like a very sudden change in character and it has very little buildup. More explanation of these feelings would have helped build her backstory more efficiently.

Another main plot point was that Jane was afraid and felt hopeless about speaking to her parents about her feelings. The end of this book left this idea open-ended on the part of her father. Jane’s mother tells her that she will accept her no matter what, which was half of the resolution, but Jane never has a conversation with her father and this felt very empty when the buildup had made it seem like it would be different. They both seem to be very loving toward Jane and never argue with her after she tells them, which was a good way of showing them to be very supportive of her. However, it was still awkward knowing that there was little resolution between her and her father.

There were also so many characters that probably stopped the full expansion that could have taken place in this book as well. Many of the characters are introduced at the beginning of the book and it can get confusing when they are mentioned in passing.

The overall idea of having this be set up around a game show is quite interesting and it lightens many of the darker moments of the book. Jane’s sarcasm was perfectly foiled by the characters who are often so light-hearted and wild in the House of Orange. Her love interest, Robbie, was also a foil to many of the characters, but in a different way. Where Jane is a do-it-herself individual who hides in her sarcasm, Robbie is a clean freak and somewhat of a genius when it came to the psychology of the game.

It is very often difficult for a person living with depression to fully understand and elaborate on their own emotions, let alone put them down on paper, but Oelke successfully conveys Jane’s feelings and creates a reading environment where pity is not at play, but rather further understanding is being built between the reader and the character. Her family and friends, in the end, help her restore hope for herself and show her that a good support system is worth more than gold, even if that means that everyone is a little different from each other.

The greatest strength that balances out the rest of the book, and the most important takeaway point from it, is Oelke’s ability to explain the internal emotions of a person living with depression and how her family and friends are instrumental in caring for her wellbeing.

Stay tuned for the next book I will be reading as part of the Seahawk’s Summer Book Club series that will be announced on Friday!