bookish posts reviews

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Zuri Benitez and her sisters have always lived in the same house in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. But now their oldest sister Janae is back from college for the summer and the rich Darcy family is moving into the renovated mansion across the street. And thanks to gentrification, their neighborhood is becoming almost unrecognizable. Zuri must find a way to be sure of her own heart even through everything is shifting around her.

I’ve loved Pride and Prejudice since I was about 12. I’ve seen a lot of adaptations, read a lot of retellings, joined Austen message boards, and even written part of a senior thesis on the book in college. So I was really intrigued by the idea of this story especially since Zoboi’s first book, American Street, got a lot of praise.

I’m so glad I did pick this one up, because I really loved it. A lot of Austen retellings, especially for the YA audience, focus on the romance of the stories and skim over the fact that Austen was a keen observer of power structures and class and how that influences the decisions and worldviews of her characters. But Zoboi pulls on that strand and highlights it, updating the social and economic status of both Darcy and the Bennets in ways that made a lot of sense for her present-day Brooklyn version.

Overall, I just thought that Zoboi made a lot of really smart choices in deciding which parts of the original story to include and which parts to change or ditch. For instance, the Benitez parents are much more loving than the Bennets, but Zuri’s father is still bookish and quiet and her mother is still shamelessly trying to get her daughters together with any rich guy around. I also loved the way Zuri’s neighborhood echos Elizabeth Bennet’s: it’s an insular and small circle of people who all know each other and know their history, until the Darcys arrive.

The language was also delight–Zoboi is really good at writing zingy dialogue and she pays a lot of attention to the way people speak and the front they’re presenting to the world. But she also excels at quietly lovely moments where Zuri’s observation and depth shine through. I loved Zuri herself, who is so stubborn and passionate, but who also knows her own worth and refuses to let herself be made less than she is. 

This book just felt very thoughtful, like Zoboi really reached deep into the heart of Pride and Prejudice and looked at the layers that run underneath the main relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth. And then in writing Darius and Zuri’s story, she chose places to echo the heart and beat of the original and places to make their story a new one. I really loved it and appreciated the respect and depth Zoboi brought to Pride.

Other reviews:
YA Book Central
Publisher’s Weekly feature on Pride
Book Page

Previously, on By Singing Light:
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (2012)
E. Wein Special Ops: Being Brave (at Chachic’s Book Nook)

bookish posts reviews

Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

jane austen goes to hollywoodBased on the title, my first reaction to this book was to groan. I suspect I’m probably not alone; most Janeites are pretty over blatant attempts to cash in on Austen’s perpetual popularity, and that’s definitely what this book looks like. But I’m happy to say that in fact this is a very nice modern day retelling of Sense and Sensibility. As I said on Twitter, I read a Jane Austen retelling and I did not hate it! On the contrary, I liked it quite a bit. For one thing, it’s not Pride and Prejudice. As much as I do love P&P, Austen did write other books and it’s nice to see one of them being adapted.

There are a few slight spoilers here, but nothing that will be surprising if you’ve already read Sense & Sensibility.

Grace Weston is the only one holding her family together. After her father dies and his entire estate, including the house she and her mother and sister live in, is passed on to his second wife, Grace has to find a way to keep her family from falling apart completely. Hallie Weston doesn’t understand how Grace can be so cold. When they move to Hollywood, Hallie falls in love with a rock star and doesn’t look back. But Grace’s heart is still in San Francisco, with the boy she shouldn’t like.

I very much appreciated the way McDonald preserved a lot of the relationships between characters, while at the same time completely updating them. There’s the girls’ stepmother, Portia, just as ridiculously self-obsessed as Fanny Dashwood. There’s Grace’s rock star boyfriend, who’s definitely a Willoughby. McDonald does a very nice job of taking the situations and people from Sense and Sensibility and changing them, while retaining the flavor of the originals.

The story is divided into alternating sections from Hallie and Grace’s perspectives. It made for an interesting change from S&S, where the focus is so centered on Elinor. While this didn’t bother me, exactly, it did make me wonder why McDonald chose to write her book this way. For me, Grace’s sections were by far more interesting (but then, Marianne has never been my favorite character). The relationship between the two sisters is fairly central to the story, and of course it is about the two gradually coming to appreciate each other. I liked that, despite the romances, McDonald kept the importance of the sisters at the forefront of the story.

I did occasionally feel that McDonald was a bit constrained by her choice to retell Sense & Sensibility so closely. For instance, I didn’t personally buy Dakota’s reasons for leaving Hallie; the record label was for me not an adequate stand-in for Willoughby’s aunt. For the most part, the moments where the original had to be translated into modern motives and situations were handled quite deftly, but the occasional moments when this didn’t work so well stood out.

A final note: Hallie and Grace are described as mixed race. Their mother is black and their father was white. However, beyond a few mentions of other peoples’ reactions to their family, this aspect was largely absent from the story. I could see one side of an argument, which is that their race should be treated simply as normal, and in one sense I do buy that. But on the other hand, the fact that we don’t live in a world where this is the case made me wonder if there shouldn’t have been a more explicit discussion of what this meant for Hallie and Grace. I’d welcome thoughts from other readers.

All in all, this was a very solid retelling of a lesser-known Austen work. I’m glad it’s out there, and I would definitely encourage any Janeites to give it a try.

Book source: public library
Book information: Candlewick Press, 2013; YA

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

Other reviews:
YA Lit Wit; The Infinite Curio; Good Reading Guide