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Hits and misses among new books for teens and tweens

Published: Saturday, Oct. 30 2010 4:00 p.m. MDT

A surprising retelling of a classic novel and a couple of excellent historical fiction offerings are among a number of compelling new books for middle and young adult readers.

"JANE," by April Lindner, Poppy, $17.99 (young adult)

Fans of Charlotte Bronte's gothic novel "Jane Eyre" will most likely pick up April Lindner's "Jane" with great anticipation.

The cover is perfect, haunting and lonely. And the idea, a modern retelling of Bronte's classic, intriguing. It's unfortunate, however, that "Jane" does not live up to expectations.

When Jane Moore's parents suddenly die, Jane is forced to drop out of Sarah Lawrence College. Hoping to one day earn enough money to return to school, she takes a nannying job at Thornfield Park.

Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback, is the proprietor of the estate, and it's his daughter, Maddy, who's left in Jane's care.

Jane is practical and plain and vows to remain unaffected by the glamorous and worldly people who now surround her. But even Jane can't resist her brooding employer and soon finds herself drawn to his every word and action.

A romance between the two blossoms only to be ripped apart by an agonizing secret from Nico's past. Faced with life-altering circumstances, Jane must decide who she is and what she wants out of life.

From the first pages, readers will want to like this book, and they probably will — mostly. Lindner captures the ambiance of "Jane Eyre" perfectly. The mood and pacing are spot on.

Jane has the right amount of timidity and Nico (Mr. Rochester to Bronte fans) is arrogant and compelling.

But Lindner's characters are flawed, and this is where the story goes awry.

In Bronte's version, Jane is pure and holds fast to her morals. Her relationship with Mr. Rochester remains chaste. In Lindner's novel, Jane sleeps with Nico before he even proposes. Though tastefully told, there's more to this scene than necessary. The innocence that makes "Jane Eyre" a classic is lost, and that's disappointing.

The language in "Jane" is also jarring. The use of the f-word and other profanity feels out of place and slows the reader, rather than pulling them in.

There are so many positives in "Jane" that one wants to like it. And for those less sensitive to language or not as worried about staying true to source material, "Jane" will be an enjoyable read. But for many, the negatives will outweigh the positives.

"THE FENCES BETWEEN US," by Kirby Larson and "A JOURNEY TO THE NEW WORLD," by Kathryn Lasky, Scholastic, $12.99 (ages 9-12)

Part of Scholastic's Dear America series, these books tell the fictionalized stories of young women through their journals.

In "The Fences Between Us," readers are introduced to Piper, a young girl living in Seattle in 1941. After Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japanese bombers, Piper begins recording everything around her.

Piper's father is the pastor for a Japanese Baptist church, and when its members are taken away to Minidoka, Idaho, to be interned, Piper's family follows them to Idaho.

Piper is miserable, but as her friendship with Betty, a Japanese-American girl interned in the camp, grows, Piper discovers she too can make a difference.

"A Journey to the New World" brings 12-year-old Remember Patience Whipple ("Mem" for short) and her parents to the New World after 65 days on the Mayflower.

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