Rating: 4 out of 5 stars!
To date, Claire LaZebnik has published four refreshing and clever Young Adult retellings of Jane Austen’s novels – Epic Fail (Pride and Prejudice), The Trouble With Flirting (Mansfield Park), The Last Best Kiss (Persuasion) and Wrong About the Guy (Emma) – and I sincerely hope she continues to write more! In this insightful and authentic retelling of Mansfield Park, Franny Pearson is a rising high school senior from a non-wealthy, divorced family looking for a summer job. Her mom arranges for her to assist her aunt with making and altering costumes for a summer theatre program at Mansfield College.
Upon arrival Franny recognizes some familiar thespians – Julia Braverman, a friend she lost touch with, and her brother Alex, who she had a monster-crush on several years ago. Franny hopes a little romance might finally happen between her and Alex this summer, but her hopes are dashed as he seems to be immediately attracted to the sophisticated and gorgeous Isabella Zevallos. Franny feelings of disappointment and dejection start to disappear when super-flirtatious and fun Harry Cartwright starts paying her some serious attention over the other girls, the question is are his intentions as serious…
Claire LaZebnik has a wonderful talent for adapting Jane Austen’s characters and themes into a story that is relevant, current, and accessible to Young Adult audiences today. It never feels forced or as if she is trying too hard. Her characters embody the right blend of maturity and youthfulness, sincerity and blitheness, seriousness and irresponsibility and I am overall impressed with the language and intimate understanding she revealed. Just like Amy Heckerling (Clueless) astutely understood high school students in 1995, Claire LaZebnik gets high school students of this generation.
One aspect of this story I greatly enjoyed was seeing the contemporary reincarnations of Jane Austen’s characters. I liked seeing a flirtatious Henry (Harry) with questionable sincerity, a “good-guy” Edmund (Alex) who is guilty of being indecisive and sending mixed signals, a Marie and Isabella (Maria and Mary) who are appropriately desperate for male attention, and a Julia (Julia) who is unsurprisingly insecure and selfish. Readers who haven’t read Mansfield Park may not pick up how wonderfully these modern updates emulate their Regency counterparts, but I did, and I greatly appreciate the author’s creativity. I especially loved that Harry’s character had an extra special twist to it! As with many people who exude a strong and loud persona, there is always more hidden behind their mask…
Those who cannot abide Fanny Price and find her priggish and dull will be delighted to find this representation of Fanny a little different. Franny is quirky, witty, unaffected and charmingly sarcastic. But, since she is at the theatre program as an employee and not a student, she still is an outsider looking in. While I have no issue with Jane Austen’s timid and virtuous heroine, I did find myself, for the most part, enjoying this alternate spunky version of Fanny. However, one aspect of her character that I wasn’t too fond of is her relationship with her aunt, (who is more of a complainer than a cruel shrew). Franny spoke negatively about her aunt several times and didn’t seem to appreciate anything her aunt did for her – such as her job, requests for time-off, free room and board. I know teenagers are often self-centered at this stage, but I found Franny lack of consideration and appreciation towards her aunt to be disappointing and uncalled for.
These modern-day retellings by Claire LaZebnik are very deserving of praise and attention in both the Austenesque and Young Adult communities! I love the creative and perceptive ways she updates Jane Austen’s novels and brings out a story that is captivating and real to young audiences! I cannot wait to get my hands on The Last Best Kiss and Wrong About the Guy!