Feeling Nostalgic About Life and Friendship? Read 'Fiona and Jane'

"I felt like Jean Chen Ho was able to give us a realistic portrayal of the ebb and flow of friendship carried from childhood into adulthood and all that comes along with it."

fiona and jane jean chen ho
(Image credit: Design by Tova Diamond)

The #ReadWithMC community unequivocally agrees that Jean Chen Ho knows how to write beautifully. The only wish? That Ho's debut book, Fiona and Jane, read more as a novel rather than a series of short stories. 

The book centers on the lives of two Taiwanese American women, Fiona and Jane, over the course of two decades—tied together through their friendship that began at a young age but diverges due to, well, life.

Despite the request for more sequencing throughout the book, reviewers loved how Ho wrote Fiona and Jane, and related to them. "There were times in which I felt more connected to Fiona and others in which I pulled away from her, and felt more connected to Jane, just like a real friendship," says one reviewer. "The story reads as a collection of pivotal moments from their lives, each chapter describing that particular moment before jumping in time."

Find out exactly what #ReadWithMC reviewers thought about Marie Claire's January book club pick, below. 

"📚 Rating: 3.5/5 stars

📖 Synopsis: Fiona and Jane is a coming-of-age short story collection told in alternating first-person and third-person perspectives about the friendship between two young Taiwanese American women and the journey life takes them on.

💭 My Thoughts: This book wasn’t what I expected it to be. The synopsis and reviews herald it as a story of friendship, and while it is that in many ways, the stories themselves deal with a variety of other themes, and the majority don’t actually have Fiona and Jane together at all. The stories also work as a cohesive whole, but are not presented in chronological order and can feel a bit disconnected. Possibly because of my preconceived notions about the book, I found myself anticipating (and wanting) a novel-told-in-short-stories rather than a short-story-collection-featuring-the-same-characters, so in a lot of ways this didn’t click quite the way I wanted it to.

That said, it wouldn’t be fair to judge this book because it didn’t live up to what I happened to imagine for it, and if I look past my own expectations this is a solid collection filled with engaging stories and more than a few poignant and meaningful moments. The strength-of-female-friendships theme didn’t come through for me until the very end, but it is portrayed beautifully once it shows up. And the collection deftly handles serious topics ranging from mental health to sexuality to serious illness. In short, if you are looking for a good short story collection, you should pick this up—but be warned that it may not be quite what you expect.

🗣 Recommended for anyone who likes: short story collections; coming-of-age themes; immigrant narratives.

⚠️ CW: Suicide/depression/self-harm; mentions of xenophobia/racism/homophobia; discussions of serious illness; implied sexual assault. [As always, feel free to DM if you need more context re: content/trigger warnings.]" —@savvyrosereads

"I read this in one sitting—that's how invested I was off the bat! Conveying a whole narrative through a grouping of short stories is already such a cool mode of storytelling, but what really got me with this book was how genuine and real the situations, characters, and dialogue felt. I honestly thought I was reading a memoir when Jane would narrate sometimes. When the perspective would skirt to Fiona, I felt like I was reliving chapters of my own early adulthood. I also really loved the way that the stories focused on them as individuals just as much as it was concerned with their relationship. All-in-all, an engrossing, emotional, beautiful read. Highly recommend! —@literarymage

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"Fiona and Jane is a collage of moments and memories, a series of intimate vignettes depicting the shared history of two Taiwanese American women whose lives alternately intersect and diverge over the course of 20 years as they navigate life and love and loss, the magnetic pull of their friendship a source of both comfort and consternation.

📖 There is so much truth in this book, and if truth is beauty, then this book is beautiful. But at times that truth is so unsparingly but matter-of-factly rendered that it is unsettling, such as when Fiona and Jane, 16-year-olds posing as college girls, go to a 'party' in a cheap motel, porn playing in the background, the enormity of the danger thrown into sharp relief by the banality of the setting.

📖 The two girls get separated that night, as they often do for much of the book; but their bond retains the elasticity of youth, stretching across the country and across the years, slackening a bit from the pressure of bad breakups, small betrayals, and personal tragedies, but ultimately remaining strong enough to bring them back together.

📖 Though the book spans 20 years of friendship, this is not a story of two friends who are there for each other at every turn; rather, it is a story of how two friends, once inseparable, can forgive the absences, gloss over the lacunae, and summon the spirit of the girls they were in the women they’ve become." —@oh_apostrophe

"I enjoyed the Natalie Naudus’s narration of this overall. Naudus had great execution in narrating from Jane and Fiona’s point of views. The story is about two Taiwanese American friends and how their different lives and journeys still cross one another from childhood to adulthood. The narration kept me interested in the storylines (although nothing exciting really happens). Much of the storyline also jumps ahead without filling the gaps in between.

⚠️ Suicide is a theme that appears throughout the book." —@mae.rox.wanders

"'Jane had never felt jealous of Fiona. She didn’t compete with her; she’d only ever wanted her to stay.' 

I wanted this to be a novel.

These 10 short stories feature Fiona and Jane, Taiwanese American girls who’ve been best friends since second grade, now thirty-somethings. It spans decades and coasts. I read it very quickly and you almost have to because the stories are all connected though not linear. Some scenes were fresh, raw and vulnerable, and achingly beautiful. Jean Chen Ho’s prose is nuanced and addresses class, race, sexuality, stereotypes, identity, and portrays the tension and drift present in female friendships, though I am uncertain they were actually friends. (If you’ve read it, I’d love your reaction on this.)

The switching from first-person to third-person narrative irked me and there are significant gaps in the timeline, which was confusing. In their childhood and adolescent stories, my worry and compulsion to protect them instantly engaged me emotionally, otherwise I struggled with relatability.

What I’m trying to say is: I wanted more time with Fiona and Jane. Overall this is an interesting endeavor in format, but it didn’t work for me. I think this would’ve been better as a novel to achieve consistency, flow, and depth of plot. I do still recommend it, these quirks may not bother you.

Pair with oyster vermicelli and a bottle of Prosecco." —@bookbarct

"A kind of coming-of-age story, a novel about friendship, Fiona and Jane spans two decades over the lives of the titular characters: two Taiwanese American best friends who navigate the intricacies of relationships and the other complexities of growing up in contemporary America. Told through alternating voices, we get peeks through each chapter of a different moment in their lives, whether they be together or apart. We see their friendship wax and wane as they try to discover who they are and how they fit into this world.

I absolutely loved this novel and the characters! There were times in which I felt more connected to Fiona and others in which I pulled away from her, and felt more connected to Jane, just like a real friendship. The story reads as a collection of pivotal moments from their lives, each chapter describing that particular moment before jumping in time. The writing was exquisite throughout but my favorite chapters were the very first two, which I thought set a fantastic tone, but that, unfortunately, were not exactly matched by the rest of the novel—the only reason I’m giving it four stars instead of five.

I found the portrayal of their friendship very realistic, as well as their relationship with their mothers and their various partners. Towards the end, the last chapter in particular, it was a little bit of a let-down, as I was confused by Fiona’s last relationship and felt she hadn't reached her full potential (but that’s life, I guess!), whereas Jane’s story seemed to come much more full circle, the emphasis of the novel mainly being on her." —@labibliofreak

"I was drawn in by both Jane and Fiona’s stories. I think I would have enjoyed this book as a novel versus short stories, but I did enjoy the broad scope the short stories afforded and the focus on pivotal moments in both women’s lives. I felt like Jean Chen Ho was able to give us a realistic portrayal of the ebb and flow of friendship carried from childhood into adulthood and all that comes along with it: high school, college, moving cross country, family, dating, marriage, divorce, babies, life, and death. And extra points for a stunning cover." —@midwestbookqueen

Missed out on our January book club pick? In February, we're reading What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris. Read an excerpt from the book here.