Stephanie's Reviews > Planet Janet

Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon
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Jul 26, 12

bookshelves: young-adult
Read in July, 2012

2.5 stars

This review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.

I’m going to let you (“you” being the entire internet) in on a secret. When I was a teen, I was a goth. I played the guitar, read lots of depressing Russian literature, wrote terrible poetry, and even worse short stories. (Occasionally, foolish people paid me for them, helping entrench my emoness [emosity?] even further.) I, like Janet Adley of Planet Janet, most certainly had my Dark Phase, although admittedly mine wasn’t quite as deliberately telegraphed as Janet’s (indeed, mine didn’t involve checklists). Other than the purple mullet thing that Janet’s got going on there, that could pretty much be teen me on the cover.

All I can say is thank goodness that I didn’t keep a diary, because no one, repeat no one, needs to be privy to the innermost workings of teenage Steph. My feelings about this are only underscored after having cringed my way through this epistolary novel (written, Janet tells us, in a “diary of feminist celebration” given to her by her militantly everything -ist lesbian aunt whom Janet nicknames “Sappho”). Oh dear, was I really like that? Is that me in those pages?

Janet, like many teenagers, runs contrary to the theories of Copernicus: she may be off on her own planet, but as far as she’s concerned, everything revolves around her. Her gravitational field of arrogance and hubris is so dense that it cripples sense and reason in mere moments, and her ability to blithely ignore everything that’s going on around here has, like silicon-based lifeforms, surely never before seen.

Having passed the mid-point of their teens, Janet and her best friend Disha decide that it’s time to become the deep and serious fashion statements unique individuals that they suspect they need to be if they’re to venture out into adulthood. Janet wants to get in touch with her starving artist side and experience true love while she’s at it–both of these goals are non-negotiables at the top of her Dark Phase checklist.

But Janet’s orbital efforts are complicated by the fact that she, gasp, shock, horror, does not actually live in a vacuum, but is rather surrounded by all sorts of selfish individuals who have their own lives to live, and who are apparently heedless of Janet’s Plathian ambitions. Needless to say, whatever can go wrong does go wrong, and Janet’s journals quickly become a very, very bitter and snarky comedy of errors.

If you imagine the well-meaning but slightly idiotic Greg Heffley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a cynical and put-upon teenaged girl, you’ve got Janet and her life. Like Greg, she’s oblivious to what’s going on around her, as well as completely ignorant of the consequences of her actions, but she’s a good deal more angsty about life in general (and has a habit of bolding and CAPITALISING and using pretty fonts* for emphasis).
So although her parents’ marriage is falling apart around her, her crush is more interested in her brother, and her brother is being stalked by a girl from university, Janet spends her days dyeing her trousers black and pretending to read Camus. Oh, and facilitating the general demise of her parents’ relationship by helping her father have an affair, setting up her brother with Janet’s own love interest (“What do [people] think? That they’re GAY?” she asks) and letting her brother’s stalker into the house for a cup of tea.

At times it’s amusing to read along with such a face-palmingly self-interested character–the reader is always a good few hundred pages ahead of poor Janet–but it does become tiresome after a while, and midway through the book I felt I’d got about as much out of Janet’s painfully awkward transgressions and general nitwittedness as I could. Part of this, I think, is because although the Wimpy Kid‘s Greg Heffley, mentioned above, is similarly off on another planet, there’s an innocence to his actions that isn’t there in Janet’s. Janet is often out and out mean, and it becomes difficult to identify with a character who calls her mother the “Mad Cow” and her brother “the greatest argument for abortion”.

And though the author frequently tantalisingly dangles the carrot of redemption in front of us with phrases like:

“I know [my mother] was only kidding, but Disha’s words from the other day came back to haunt me and I stared at her for a few seconds like I’d never seen her before. Maybe D’s right and EVERYBODY–even my mother–has a secret, inner self.”

She promptly follows them with phrases like:

“Maybe, deep down in her secret self, [my mother] (primary school teacher and graduate of the St John Ambulance first aid course) really would kill someone.”

Unfortunately, Janet never does manage to pounce upon that carrot, and though there’s a glimmer of growth in her character by the end of the book, it doesn’t feel satisfying. Often what’s more interesting is the use of Janet as a lens for the examination of the rituals involved in growing up, with Janet’s naivite and utter assuredness in her own knowledge often appallingly highlighted across all manner of social issues.
Still, if you can abide snark and don’t mind spending an evening with a character whose good side appears to be nonexistent, Planet Janet does offer some gems of insight into the teenage condition. A condition from which I’m rather glad I’ve recovered.

*I am well aware that Comic Sans is not a pretty font. WordPress is a little limited in the font side of things
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