Author: Eve Marie MontI heard recently that there's been a study which found that the act of reading actually affects the brain in a way that makes the reader identify strongly with the character - in fact, in the brain, it's as if the reader has assumed the persona of the character while she's reading. Fascinating stuff. Who hasn't daydreamed about living the life of a captivating character they've read about? I certainly have. And Eve Marie Mont takes that fantasy and makes it real with A Breath of Eyre and with the rest of the series, where Emma, book lover extraordinaire, finds herself transported to the worlds of the characters she is reading about.
Publisher: Kensington Teen
Released: April 2012
Genre: YA (Fantasy)
Series: First of Emma's story (next books: A Touch of Scarlet, A Phantom Enchantment)
Source: ARC from Publisher
Challenge: 2012 YA Debut, Speculative Romance, YA/MG Fantasy
The book begins by introducing Emma as a girl who just doesn't fit in - not in her family, where her dad has become distant to her ever since her mom's death and her stepmother is just so different, not in her fancy prep school where she attends as a scholarship student and can't stand the snooty politics of the popular girls, and definitely not with Gray, the "family friend" for whom she's always harbored feelings and yet can't seem to have any relationship with beyond snide bantering. Emma is a truly likable character. There are pockets of darkness in her apparent from the opening scene of the book, when she escapes her own birthday party for a swim at a really bad time. That's the first of her harmful experiences - she lands in the hospital four times in the span of one year!
But it's her hospital visits that are the key to the book. Beginning with her first visit, after she's been struck by lightning, her times in a coma correspond to the times when she visits Thornfield and lives with Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, and Rochester, of course. The way Emma is introduced to this life is brilliant - though at first confused, she almost immediately begins acting the part of Jane, and she slowly loses memory of being Emma. I do like that this doesn't keep up throughout the book - it's effective in this instance by grounding her firmly enough in this world so that it's believable, but the process of her forgetting and remembering would have been tedious had it continued.
Emma, as Jane, forms a relationship with Rochester, closely mirroring the fantasized relationship she has with Mr. Gallagher, her English teacher. But through this relationship with Rochester, she learns about true love and forgiveness, and she makes choices in both worlds stemming from her new understanding. The thing is, the correlation between Emma's world and Jane's relies too heavily on this one connection, and I didn't find that it followed through for the rest of the details of the book. Yes, other characters from Emma's world appear in Jane's - Mrs. Fairfax is Madame Favier, her French teacher; Adele is Gray's little sister; Elise, the villain in Emma's world, is Blanche Ingram vying for Rochester's attention. But the why of these connections is missing. And then, the plot strains a bit in asking the reader to see Gray as Emma's Mr. Rochester, after she's become disgusted with Mr. Gallagher. First of all, how could there be two Rochesters? And besides, once Emma has decided she can't forgive Rochester the way Jane did, why is Gray - the good guy - connected to him?
By midway through the book, Emma has begun to have a serious relationship with Gray. Gray seems wonderful - with dark secrets of his own, that's true, but the perfect boyfriend, sweet and considerate and darkly handsome. The relationship between Emma and Gray develops slowly, realistically considering their pasts, shared and separate. But there are some inconsistencies leading to a rather tidy finish. Emma turns away from Gray when at one point he says that he needs her because she makes him better. Emma doesn't want to be needed, she wants to be loved. But then, after she and Gray haven't spoken for some time and Emma is miserable about it, someone says to her, "He doesn't need cooling down, child. He needs you," and that prompts Emma to go back to him. The reasoning there is off - that's the reason she ditched him in the first place!
Then there's the ending. The last chapter begins with a paragraph set off by a line break from the rest of the chapter, in which Emma says there are things she'll never understand, including how it actually happened that she was living in Jane's world. From the excerpt in the back of the book from A Touch of Scarlet, I assume that this will be more fully explored there, but it left me unsatisfied for now, especially in regard to Emma's mother. Her "dreams" of Thornfield show her things about her mother, and I expected that to be explained, especially since the copy of Jane Eyre that Emma reads was once her mother's. But if she is connected somehow to Jane, why does she continue to go into other characters' stories?
That is actually something I'd like to find out, so I do plan on reading the following books in the sequence. And I have to say, as I was reading the book, up until the last twenty pages or so, I was thinking what a great book this is. I was too disappointed by the way things turn out, though, to give this a positive review. It felt like the concept started off strong and then petered out, and that ruined the whole book for me.