Fiona and Jane: a Book Review

February 27, 2024

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho is a novel about the titular characters, both Taiwanese-American girls growing up in Los Angeles, and their friendship, which spans from second grade through adulthood. They grow up together, grow apart when Fiona leaves for New York, then struggle to reconcile when she returns, years later. The book switches between the perspectives of Fiona and Jane, playing with point of view and delving into each of their families, traumas, and heartbreaks. The overarching plot is less of a complete narrative and more a nonlinear series of vignettes of their lives in and out of Los Angeles. 

The writing is excellent, peppered with pithy descriptions and compelling characters, who are flawed and at very least understandable if not lovable. Many of the side characters are fully fleshed out and interesting in their own right – from Won, the third friend in their high school trio, and his fragile self-image, to Fiona’s friend Kenji who is diagnosed with cancer.

By choosing to order the chapters out of time, Jean Chen Ho purposefully disorients the reader. Their past relationships and childhood memories return to affect them 30 years down the line. While it’s a little difficult to keep everything straight, she brilliantly captures how Fiona and Jane weave in and out of each other’s lives. Due in part to this format, the characters don’t have straightforward, cohesive character arcs, but that is part of what makes their stories so riveting.

However, the base premise of their friendship, which is supposed to be the emotional core of the narrative, is a little shaky. Fiona and Jane spend most of the book estranged; when they aren’t, the issues in their relationship are at the forefront. Most of these issues center around the male love interests who routinely come between them and are uninteresting at best, infuriating at worst. The tension in the friendship and their individual resentments are really well illustrated, but they also have the effect of making the bond between them less believable. In fact, Jane and Won have more of a believable rapport than Fiona and Jane. Even when they reconnect, their relationship feels superficial, making the reader struggle to understand why the entire novel has been revolving around Fiona and Jane instead of Fiona or Jane. Although the impact of their friendship on each other could be shown even while the two aren’t speaking, the book fails to establish this impact and ends up being less about their friendship and more about their own personal journeys.

Ultimately, Fiona and Jane is a captivating read and does an excellent job of making the reader invested in its fascinating characters, even though the titular friendship doesn’t achieve the same amount of depth as the individual characters. If you like Normal People by Sally Rooney, you’d probably enjoy this book.

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