A Book About the Jane Collective and More
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“It was a perfectly ordinary day when a truly extraordinary letter was delivered to the wrong mailbox.” This is the opening sentence of Looking for Jane. The letter in question was sent to Nancy Mitchell and was from her mother, Frances. It was sent by Frances’ attorney upon her death. In this deathbed confession, she tells Nancy that she is not her birth mother, but her adoptive mother instead. Frances shares Nancy’s birth mother’s name: Margaret Roberts.
This letter went to an address that had a business on the first floor and a residence on the second. Nancy lived in the residence, but did not work at the business. Meanwhile, the letter went to the business instead of the residence, where it got carelessly misplaced. Thus, while the letter was sent in 2010, it was not found until 2017.
By that time Nancy had long ago moved from the residence. And while the business was still the same, the new employee of the business, Angela, had never met Nancy and had no way of knowing her current whereabouts.
But after opening and reading the letter, Angela is determined to find Nancy.
Thus the reader gets alternating chapters featuring Angela and Nancy and also chapters from a woman named Evelyn. We even get one chapter from Margaret Roberts (Maggie). The novel goes back and forth in time – a bit confusingly – to tell their stories and back stories. The various sections of the novel take place between the years 1961 and 2017.
Beyond adoption, many reproductive issues are discussed. Among other things, the book tells about the “Jane” network for safe and secret abortions in the 1960’s.
Showing the range of issues, here are the basic stories for each of these women.
- Chapter #1 introduces us to Angela. We meet her in 2017. She is a gay woman and she and her partner are trying to conceive a child.
- Chapter #2 introduces us to Evelyn Taylor. We meet her in 1960 when she is unceremoniously dumped at St. Agnes’ Home for Unwed Mothers. There she experiences “the maternity home system.” While St. Agnes’ is a fictional place, an author’s note at the end of the book tells us it is an accurate depiction according to her research. She said, “most described their time at these institutions on a spectrum from moderately unpleasant to horrendously abusive, including systemic physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse.” At St. Agnes, Evelyn becomes friends with Maggie. Both have their babies in 1961 and both place their babies into adoption, though not voluntarily. Ultimately, Evelyn goes on to become a doctor and part of her practice includes performing abortions as a part of the Jane Collective.
- Chapter #3 brings us Nancy – we meet her in 1979. She was born in 1961, so she is a teenager at this point. With a cousin – and then in her own life – she faces the need for an abortion. It is through these two experiences, that she learns of the Jane network. Ultimately, she volunteers her time to this cause.
- It takes until Chapter #29 for us to read a chapter exclusively about Maggie and to learn her secrets.
Suffice it to say that these various stories overlap in a compelling way.
Learning about the Jane network was the most important part of this book. I first learned about it from a 2022 film, Call Jane, starring Sigourney Weaver and Elizabeth Banks. I found it to be such an important part of history that I rented the film and showed it to my daughters and daughter-in-law-to-be at my home. So, yes! I recommend the book – or the movie – or both! Everyone needs to know about Jane!
Learn more about Looking for Jane here on Amazon.
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