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Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon

 Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon

Im 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 wasnt quite as deliberately telegraphed as Janets (indeed, mine didnt involve checklists). Other than the purple mullet thing that Janets got going on there, that could pretty much be teen me on the cover.

All I can say is thank goodness that I didnt 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 shes 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 thats 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 its time to become the deep and serious' fashion statements unique individuals that they suspect they need to be if theyre to venture out into adulthood. Janet wants to get in touch with her starving artist side and experience true love while shes at itboth of these goals are non-negotiables at the top of her Dark Phase checklist.

But Janets 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 Janets Plathian ambitions. Needless to say, whatever can go wrong does go wrong, and Janets 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, youve got Janet and her life. Like Greg, shes oblivious to whats going on around her, as well as completely ignorant of the consequences of her actions, but shes 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 Janets own love interest (What do [people] think? That theyre GAY? she asks) and letting her brothers stalker into the house for a cup of tea.

At times its amusing to read along with such a face-palmingly self-interested characterthe reader is always a good few hundred pages ahead of poor Janetbut it does become tiresome after a while, and midway through the book I felt Id got about as much out of Janets painfully awkward transgressions and general nitwittedness as I could. Part of this, I think, is because although the Wimpy Kids Greg Heffley, mentioned above, is similarly off on another planet, theres an innocence to his actions that isnt there in Janets. 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 Dishas words from the other day came back to haunt me and I stared at her for a few seconds like Id never seen her before. Maybe Ds right and EVERYBODYeven my motherhas 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 theres a glimmer of growth in her character by the end of the book, it doesnt feel satisfying. Often whats more interesting is the use of Janet as a lens for the examination of the rituals involved in growing up, with Janets naivite and utter assuredness in her own knowledge often appallingly highlighted across all manner of social issues.

Still, if you can abide snark and dont 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 Im rather glad Ive recovered.

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

Rating: star Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldonstar Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldonhalfstar Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldonblankstar Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldonblankstar Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon (not bad)

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 Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon Book Review: Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon


  1. Unfortunately I do mind spending time reading about characters with nonexistent redeeming qualities, so I think I will give a pass on this book for now. However, picturing you as a goth teen totally just made my day and I actually did keep a diary, with pretty fonts, and pictures. In the hopes that one day someone would read them, when I became a famous writer of course.

    Interesting tidbit, they were recently read out loud when my family opened our 12 year old time capsule at my sisters wedding. Apparently I had stuck in a few pages of my diary. From when we had lice (I have three sisters, we had a lot of hair). . . . Im sure why that moment in my life was so profound that I thought it a good idea to a) write it down and b) put it in a time capsule. It was quite a funny read though.

    • Stephanie /

      Jami, you should hold on to that diary for posteritys sake! Im cool with characters who are arrogant and self-interested, because honestly, arent we all to some extent? But this one is just a bit mean in her snarkiness and self-obsession, and though I know the books designed to caricature her, it does get a little tiresome.

      Still giggling at the lice thing. When I first read that, I thought you meant that you had stuck the dead lice in the time capsule!

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