Tuesday, April 8, 2008


In keeping with my recent Jane Austen addiction, I read Polly Shulman’s young adult novel Enthusiasm. Although Julia is the book’s main character, the title refers to her best friend, Ashleigh. Ashleigh is easily obsessed (with candy making, music, learning to fly) and drags her best friend into these obsessions.

Julia’s life is thrown into chaos when Ashleigh becomes obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Ashleigh insists on sneaking into a dance at a private boys’ school in search of her Mr. Darcy (and Julia’s Mr. Bingley). Naturally, each girl meets the boy of her dreams. Unfortunately, it is the same boy.

The book’s premise is interesting—maybe I should set out to find my Mr. Darcy—but the execution leaves something to be desired. The narrative has little to do with Austen or Pride and Prejudice—they are simply hijacked as a plot device for Julia to meet her dream boy. Ashleigh is meant to be precocious and charming, but her idiosyncrasies feel unnatural and forced.

Julia is a loyal (though rather uncommunicative) best friend, but her narration often sounds much older than her 15 years. Shulman throws in some invented teen slang (“crisp” describes anything positive), a few crass anatomical references, and random capitalization, but these do not make a narrative feel young and fresh. Instead, Julia often sounds clunky and old fashioned.

The book is a feel-good romance, and on this end, it delivers. C. Grandison Parr is a dreamy hero (though I can’t really imagine a normal teenage boy writing sonnets), and Julia doesn’t really face any serious opposition in her love life. Although I am not enthusiastic about this book, it makes for decent young adult escapist fiction.

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