Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Dashwood sisters are having a bad year – first their dad divorces their mom (leaving her broken-hearted) and marries another woman, Pandora (a self-absorbed nightmare that spends their dad’s money and makes him change everything about himself). Then, their dad suddenly and tragically passes away from a stress-induced heart attack. But that isn’t all…Mr. Dashwood was stressed because of some heavy financial losses, and now all he left his family with are his debts. Due to the legalities of their father’s will and recent business transactions the Dashwood sisters are forced to leave their ancestral home, school, and friends to relocate to an available cottage far from all they knew and loved.
But the sisters have some distractions in the love department to help them cope with these new changes. Ellie, who is never really one to have crushes, finds herself drawn to her step-mom’s artsy and kind nephew, Blake (Edward). Abby seems to have caught the eye of two guys in her new village and finds herself in a bit of a double love triangle. And although Georgie would much rather go on thrilling adventures and ride her skateboard, she finds that having boys interested in her as a girl may not be so bad after all…
I’ve always been a fan of Young Adult Austenesque and am a firm believer that these books could lead young readers to the wonderful delight of discovering Jane Austen’s novels. Rosie Rushton is quite prolific in the Young Adult genre and has published six books in her 21st Century Jane Austen series, one for each major Jane Austen work. This is her first book in that series.
I enjoyed several of the clever twists and updates to this story, such as transforming Fanny Dashwood into the evil stepmom, Pandora! In addition, I thought the whole divorce/debt/moving-out-of-childhood-home parallel was believable and a fitting comparison to what took place in Jane Austen’s original novel. But my favorite modern alteration was the focus on Georgie (Margaret Dashwood). I loved that she was into extreme sports, had a strong will, and received a lot more page time.
However, one part of the story I thought a bit lacking was the characters; they all felt a little one dimensional and could have benefited from a little more fleshing out – especially the heroes. While at first I liked sensitive and artsy Blake, I later became frustrated and disappointed in him. He showed a lot of weakness, and his wanting to kiss Ellie before breaking up with his girlfriend was a bit of a turn-off. In addition, the Marianne/Brandon storyline felt a little bit muddied because of Abby’s friend Chloe who was crushing on/dating Nick (Brandon) while Nick was wanting Abby. Both Nick and Blake were a little too far removed from and not as likable as their Regency counterparts for my taste.
Overall, there didn’t seem to be much substance or depth to the story. I know this is a Young Adult novel, and I’m not expecting it to be über-serious or deeply complex. But at the same time, I’ve read better – Sass and Serendipity, Pride and Popularity, and Seeking Mansfield to name a few. I thought it was a missed opportunity by the author to explore some of the interesting themes that are prevalent in Jane Austen’s work – the dichotomy of two opposite natures, the relationships between sisters, sense vs. sensibility. Instead it was a light-hearted and frothy tale.
For young adult readers with no previous knowledge of Jane Austen and her works, I think this novel will delight and entertain, and hopefully induce them to read Jane Austen’s novels! But for this Jane Austen fan, who has had the pleasure of reading some superb, thoughtful, and sensitive Young Adult updates, I’m afraid I found it only tolerable by comparison.