Friday, January 14, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison -- YA Historical Fiction/Austenesque

Sixteen-year-old Jenny Copper and her younger cousin Jane Austen are students at a horrible boarding school in Southampton where they're always cold and hungry. Jane has made shy Jenny's life bearable with her jokes and witty stories. Without Jane, Jenny would die. Now Jane is dying of fever and the school mistress doesn't care and the doctor's potions are not working. Jenny feels that if her Aunt Austen would come, Jane would get well, however, Jenny is forbidden from contacting the outside world and the school mistress will not send for Jane's mother. Fearing for her best friend's life, Jenny dares break the rules to sneak out and mail a letter on the midnight mail coach. The streets of Southamton are dangerous after dark and Jenny is scared of the drunken men and other unsavory characters, but is rescued by the handsome young Captain Thomas Williams. The Captain listens to Jenny's story,  helps to make sure her letter will reach her aunt ASAP and escorts her safely back to school. Jenny falls madly in love with the kind, caring young man but she knows if anyone ever finds out she was wandering the streets alone at night, unescorted, her reputation will be ruined. Jenny, always a worrier, pours her feelings into her journal, hoping her Aunt Austen will come and make Jane well again. The Austens come to take Jane and Jenny away from school and back to the Steventon Parsonage in Hampshire where Jane's lively and boisterous family are ready and willing to accept Jenny as one of their own. Jenny is fascinated by Jane's five brothers (especially charming  Henry), one sister and several theology students who live at the Parsonage. Jenny's only brother is much older and he and his wife care little about her so she is content to stay with the Austens. Jenny records her daily activities and thoughts into her journal accompanied by sketches of the Austens and their world. Jenny's quiet nature is a contrast to her lively cousin Jane who is always dashing about, speaking her mind, writing romance stories and getting into trouble. Jenny's terrible secret hovers in the back of her mind, right next to thoughts of the dashing Captain. She wonders if he'll keep his word never to share her secret and whether she'll ever see him again. With Jane, Jenny learns about family, friendship, flirting and love as they run around, attend parties and balls and fall in and out of love.

This is a sweet little fictional account of Jane Austen's early years through the eyes of someone who knew her well. Jenny is a great narrator because she's observant and records everything. She's sweet and shy and I like her a lot. I love her romance and the story kept me guessing as to what her heart really felt. Jane, on the other hand, is a little unlikeable. She's bratty and immature for 15 and never thinks things through. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, who apparently is the model for Mrs. Bennet, and adores her indulgent father. Her romance stories are hilarious and if you haven't read her juvenile stories, you'll want to after this. I also didn't like how certain people and events in Jane's life influenced her stories. This story would have been better without the too obvious parallels. Diehard Janeites might dislike the portrayal of young Jane Austen and history geeks might miss the lack of period language,  though for teens, I think it's a good introduction to Jane Austen and her time. The language is modern and accessible and Jane and Jenny's feelings and actions are just the same as any other teenage girl in any time or place. I enjoyed the book and think it's worth a read if you want to know what a young Jane Austen COULD have been like. I liked this one better than Dearest Cousin Jane by Jill Pitkeathley.

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