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Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood Kindle Edition
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Sometimes, this blind allegiance leads to wonderful discoveries, like the lovely Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Other times, it leads to more questionable works, like the 2010 Camille Belle Film, From Prada to Nada.
Fortunately for me, Abby McDonald's Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood falls firmly into the former category. It's funny, clever, contains some unexpected and twists, and is a pure delight to read.
After their father's untimely death, Hallie and Grace Weston are at a loss. They don't have the resources to stay in their beloved hometown of San Francisco, so together with their mom, they move into a relative's guest house in Beverly Hills.
Once they've settled into the 90210, Grace settles into classes at Beverly Hills High School. She makes friends with a quirky local girl, but continues to wonder about a romance that she left behind.
Hallie, determined to make a name for herself as an actress in Hollywood, throws herself into acting classes, friendships with the glossy elite of the Hills, and a new romance.
Because Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is an adaptation, there is always a tendency to want to refer to the source material.
I'll give into that tendency, but with this disclaimer in mind: even if I hadn't known that this was an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, I would have strongly enjoyed this book on its merits. I've always found Abby McDonald asa pleasant writer to read, and this book is no different.
Things that worked :
First and foremost, I liked the fact that Abby McDonald reversed the ages for Grace and Hallie. In S&S, Grace (or Elinor) is normally older, and Hallie (Marianne) is younger.
By reversing the age, McDonald immediately got rid of some the preconceived assumptions that people automatically make with the characters - e.g. the reason that the Elinor-equivalent is more mature is strictly due to age, or the Marianne-equivalent is hysterical, is because she's younger.
I also really liked the fact that Grace and Hallie are mixed-race. I'm pretty sure it's only mentioned once in the book, but the sentence jumped out at me when I read it. You don't get a lot of mixed-race heroines in teenage/contemporary fiction, so I liked that McDonald was making it a point to buck the trend.
McDonald's modernization of the other characters works, as well. You can tell she actually thought about how to both connect her characters to her source material and make it relevant for today's modern reading audience - e.g. her decision to make Brandon a returned Iraq war vet - is a very clever, thoughtful choice.
The same goes for having Theo (Edward) as a student of philosophy. It remains true to the source material of Edward wanting to be a minister, and also shows a clever understanding of contemporary culture.
(Because let's face it: who hasn't assumed that philosophy is a "worthless" major, when you can actually learn some pretty cool things?)
Transferring the setting of the book from the coasts of England to San Francisco and Los Angeles, was also an inspired choice.
I know that part of the reason McDonald made the choice to set the book in these locatoins was because she lives in the L.A. area, but it's also just clever in general. In the original S&S, the Dashwood sisters move from their large home, to the more isolated Devonshire. The girls feel physically isolated and alone.
By having Grace and Hallie move to chaotic LA, McDonald is subtly exploring what it's like to be emotionally isolated rather than physically isolated. It's clever, and actually forces the reader to think about how proximity to crowds doesn't necessarily mean you won't feel isolated.
There are no real surprises on the main plot: if you've read S&S, you know what happens. It's written in very engaging tones, and it's fun to read.
For me, it's the small touches that count - e.g. Hallie standing up for herself when her friends treat her poorly; Grace making friends and doing things like participating in alternative Hollywood tours; and Hallie even getting therapy. These touches round the story out in a way that the original didn't necessarily have.
This is a fun, thoughtful read that I would highly recommend to Jane Austen fans, but to fans of YA and contemporary fiction in general.
One of the things that instantly made me want to read this novel is that it was about sisters Hallie and Grace Weston. I love reading about sisters, since I have two of my own. The resemblance between Hallie and Grace's relationship and that of mine with my own siblings was uncanny, though their personalities were exaggerations of ours. Dramatic, personable Hallie and quiet, responsible Grace definitely clash a lot over their differences in this book. But it was a fact that, even if they got angry or "hated" each other, there was always the deep, underlying devotion and loyalty that they shared.
I definitely identified more with Grace, as we share many traits in common. She's the model sibling, the one who is more likely to stay at home than to go out to a party. She's also the one who holds it all together when her dad dies, a responsibility that is a lot for someone her age. I identified a lot with being loaded with responsibilities not really meant for me, but I identified even more with her when she experiences a moment of regret because she never took a step, or a risk, or a chance. Eventually, she realizes a few things and comes to terms with what she needs to do to get on with her life, and I think it was handled really well.
Both the sisters experience romantic entanglements in this novel. I find it particularly intriguing that there's a definite contrast. One runs headlong into a romantic relationship, and pours her heart and soul into feeling every single feeling. The other, on the other hand, is too scared to take the next step - and ends up torturing herself over the regret she feels over that choice. It's fun to get to experience the spectrum of emotions with them both, and I love how each of their relationships winds up in the end.
The special part of Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is that both Hallie and Grace gain all sorts of experiences that change who they are forever. As teens, all of us went through moments that defined us or branded us for the rest of our lives, and it is the same for these two. The authenticity with which this is done in this novel is really spot on, though the element of living in Hollywood, running with an affluent crowd (that's Hallie) and living with an uncle and his wife who spoil them silly does add a bit of fancifulness.
All in all, Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is definitely one of the more enjoyable books I've read this year. The writing was well-done, the story was fun to read and the characters are accessible and understandable. I really liked it, and would definitely recommend it to fellow contemporary YA fans looking for a fun spring/summer read.
Soon, their step mother Portia kicks them out and the gils are forced to move to L.A. with relatives, where ever the Drama Queen Hallie seems to thrive in her own way while younger sister Grace is trying to keep it all together.
My Thoughts: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood is basically and upside-down modernized version of Sense and Sensibility, and for the most part I rather liked it. The twists and updates were pretty smart and ballsy and I think the spirit of the story was kept.
I liked the characters even though I thought Hallie was a bit over the top and annoying, and Portia was so mean and I got so mad at Hallie and Graces dad and, and their mom too, for their neglect.
Aside from that, it was okay. I really disliked the title (sounds like a lazy title to me, somehow) but the writing was fun. Didn't like it as much as I did Abby McDonald's previous book Getting Over Garrett Delaney but it was a fun way to pass time anyhow, and I've certainly read worse Jane Austen Retellings.
This review was originally posted at A Girl, Books and Other Things.
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But this book... wow. Just, wow. I couldn't even finish it.Read more