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REVIEW: Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler

April 16, 2012

Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler Review by Lisa Galek

Sass and Serendipity tells the story of teenaged sisters, Gabby and Daphne Rivera. After their parents’ divorce, Gabby decides she doesn’t want anything to do with boys. She doesn’t believe in love and thinks involvement with the opposite sex can only end in heartbreak. But, for Daphne, true love – the kind she’s read about in books and seen in romantic comedies – can’t come soon enough. When Daphne falls for the cute new-guy-in-town, Luke, she tries desperately to draw him into a modern day romance. Meanwhile, Gabby’s views on love are tested when she begins to attract the attention of two unlikely suitors – her best friend, Mule, and the son of the family’s wealthy landlord, Prentiss.

This young adult retelling is truly “inspired” by Sense and Sensibility, and does stray a bit from the original characters and plot. The main similarity with Austen’s work is that it is about two sisters with opposing views on life and love. The potential love interests don’t really match up with Austen’s heroes as one might expect. Only Luke, who is more interested in courting the opinion of the popular clique at school than dating Daphne, comes close (he is a bit like Willoughby). Prentiss has more in common with Mr. Darcy than the mild-mannered Edward Ferrars. Mule has some parallels with Colonel Brandon, but those are only apparent near the end.

It isn’t often that I can say this – but I actually loved the writing though I was less enthusiastic about the characters and romantic plot. The dialogue and descriptions are fresh and witty and perfectly suited to a young adult audience. The pop culture references are fun and fit well with the story. The author also successfully uses a third person narrative to alternate between both sisters’ points of view, giving the reader a greater understanding of what’s going on inside both girls’ heads.

However, the Rivera sisters don’t have the warmth and closeness of the elder Dashwood girls. Only the younger sister, Daphne, has the charm of Austen’s original. Her older sister, however, is a bit too cynical and cruel to be made in the image of Elinor Dashwood. Elinor might have been the sensible sister, but she was not certainly hard-hearted when it came to love or mean to her friends and family in the way that Gabby is. Gabby frequently and harshly rebukes her sister for her stupidity and self-pity when it comes to romance. By the time I got about 250 pages in, all the screaming fights between the girls were becoming a bit overdone. And I say that as someone who had a younger sister. . . and quite a lot of screaming fights.

The romance, also, doesn’t have the pull that I would have wanted. The relationship with the two sisters is really taking center stage and the boys are mainly secondary. Not that there’s nothing wrong with boys being secondary (especially in a novel targeted at young girls), but even the scenes where cute guys appear left me feeling underwhelmed. There isn’t much romantic tension. There are no butterflies. No desperate hope in the heart of the reader that somehow, someway, things will work out for our heroines. Gabby spends most of her time pushing boys away, while Daphne clings to them much too tightly. Sadly, by the end, I didn’t care much who the girls ended up with.

I go to Jane Austen for her well-drawn characters and captivating romance, but this novel didn’t satisfy me on either point. I don’t know if it’s completely fair to judge this book by the standards of the original, but, I’m afraid that Janeites will have a hard time not doing so. For the target market of young girls, Sass and Serendipity is a fun, light, entertaining read. Personally, I prefer my Austen retellings and adaptations as faithful as possible. I’d still take Clueless any day.

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