Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho is an Own Voices novel focusing on two Taiwanese-American women, Fiona and Jane, who are friends since the second grade. Fiona Lin and Jane Shen are wonderful and flawed characters. Set in Taiwan, Los Angeles, and New York, the novel spans a lifetime of female friendships. The narrative is not linear, going back and forth in time. The novel is narrated in alternating voices of Fiona and Jane.
Books on female friendship are few and far between and most often, one protagonist has to be bad or negative in some way for the other protagonist to shine. Or often, there is a love triangle where one female protagonist has to die or disappear for the main love story to function and progress. So, Fiona and Jane is an interesting change of pace. Jane has immense guilt over the suicide of her father and she has a strained relationship with her mother. Jane takes care of her mother. Fiona has her own issues with her single mom and issues of class. Both Jane and Fiona have lives that deal with problems of family – especially mothers and extended families – problems with their partners, issues of money and income, and jobs – or the lack thereof. Jane and Fiona also struggle with their identities, but not in the way that some immigrants do. Their struggle is more of trying to find themselves in their own world and figuring things out. Jane also struggles with her sexuality. She is queer but the reader is never given a definite answer if there is anything beyond – or more categorical – to her queerness.
At the heart of the novel is the complexities of friendship. Some people are lucky to have friendships that last from childhood to adulthood; I have friends with whom I don’t talk for months and meet in years (different countries) but when we meet, we talk as if no time has passed. Then I have friends whom I met in my mid-twenties in a different country and who have become my best friends. Friendship is multi-dimensional and can serve so many purposes and it is normal to break up with friends. Fiona and Jane reminded me of my friendships, its ups and downs, and how sometimes, just having one friend, can make life worthwhile.