Review by Allison T.
“It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet ‘tsk’ of displeasure. The target? Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind and seems determined to stay there.”
Thus commences the back blurb on Marilyn Brant’s According to Jane, a book that lies somewhat uneasily, for this reader at least, between a tween/teen coming-of-age novel, a more adult coming-of-age novel (sometimes disparagingly referred to as “chick-lit”), and a novel that Janeites would find interesting.
Some readers will find According to Jane an entertaining read as Ellie struggles to decide which of her lovers is The One. She also wrestles with her position in the family as a middle child with substantial sibling issues with her older sister. The story flashes back and forth to Ellie’s experiences with various boyfriends and lovers at various times in her life and her continuing encounters with Sam. Could Jane Austen be wrong after all? Could Sam really be Mr. Darcy? According to Jane is likely to appeal most to young women readers of 21+ with a mild interest in Jane Austen; but I think it fails both its younger and its Jane-Adamant readers.
Here’s one thing: the cover flat of the ARC that I received looks very teen-oriented. It features a dreamy head shot of a pretty young girl pensively propping her chin in her hands, and this image, the warm colors of the cover, and the back blurb that mentions “sophomore English class” screams teen. But the graphic sex contained in the book is not appropriate for this market.
Here’s another thing: the Jane Austen in my head never says “tsk”—she is more likely to say something more piquant or snarky than mere “tsks” of disapproval. (BTW, the sound, “tsk” or “tsk-tsk,” meaning “for shame,” is, according to on one-line dictionary, dated only to 1947 as a noun, 1967 as a verb: the real Jane Austen never said “tsk-tsk.”) By contrast, Brant’s Jane is rather mid-Victorian in an Oprah-ish way. While sometimes she comes out with something recognizably Austenesque—“You are too sensible a girl to fall in love merely because you are warned against it”—at other times she tsks more mundanely: ”This is an awkward phase you are in, Ellie, but it will pass in time.” And her objection to Sam Blaine? “He is your Mr. Wickham.” Why? Because he snaps Ellie’s bra strap? Because he flirts with other girls? Apparently so. But the real Wickham’s perfidies go deeper than these venial sins. He is a wastrel and a blackguard—an active agent of social disruption, not just a charming flirt.
There are other works in AustenLand that feature Austen herself as a dispenser of wisdom, and several of them work better for us die-hards than According to Jane for two reasons: first, they use more of Austen’s own words, either from the novels or the letters; and second, they are not confined purely to P&P.
The vagaries of publishing are such—or so we hear from the grapevine—that publishers are reluctant to produce a book that is not P&P-oriented. Indeed, the young adult market that this book will appeal to probably is mostly or only familiar with P&P. So despite her love of Austen, Marilyn Brant, who shows promise as a romance writer, is somewhat boxed in by her premise that keeps her tied to one novel only.
According to Jane is an entertaining, light read for those who like modern, sexy romances; but it will leave the Janeite longing for more of Austen.