Ever since the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, the names Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy have been held dear by readers. From the famed 1995 TV miniseries that cemented Colin Firth as Darcy in the hearts and minds of adoring fans to the über-popular Lizzie Bennet Diaries vlog, Jane Austen’s first novel continues to inspire modern literary descendants. The young adult fiction market, in particular, is overflowing quick-witted adaptations of Austen novels that are sure to delight new and longtime fans of the author.
Pride and Prejudice, Revisited
Polly Schulman’s debut novel Enthusiasm (Putnam, 2006) offers the perfect combination of what has made Austen’s classics perennial favorites: tight-knit female friendships; a clever, clear-headed heroine; misunderstandings galore; gallant leading men; and the pursuit and eventual reward of romance. In this modern interpretation of the author’s well-known work, best friends Julia and Ashleigh are embroiled in a madcap scheme to find swoon-worthy suitors. Always the enthusiast, Ashleigh’s latest passion (and mindset) is the Regency era, and she drags her friend along for the ride. The outgoing girl’s plans include invading an all-boys’ prep school in search of “True Loves” for the two friends. But what happens when her Mr. Darcy turns out to be the “Mysterious Stranger” Julia’s been pining over? A comedy of errors ensues.
Complete with an eye-catching book jacket and an attention-grabbing title, Elizabeth Eulberg’s Prom and Prejudice (Scholastic, 2011) captures Austen’s keen observations on class and society, refashioning them for the 21st century. Lizzie Bennett is a scholarship student and music prodigy at Longbourn Academy, a posh private school for girls. Its prom is the social event of the year, and the competition for the best designer dress and cutest date is fierce. Lizzie would rather avoid the charade, but her best friend Jane is newly enamored with Charles Bingley from the nearby Pemberly Prep, and insists that they go. By Bingley’s side is the aloof and reticent Will Darcy. Eulberg sticks close to the original (a dastardly “Wick” makes an appearance), and infuses her feisty take with spot-on dialogue.
Veronica Mars meets Lizzie Bennett in Talia Vance’s Spies in Prejudice (Egmont USA, 2013). For readers who cherish curling up with a good mystery or espionage drama, Vance’s retelling of the classic is the perfect book. Berry Fields helps her private investigator father track down cheating husbands with the help of her tech-genius and best friend Mary Chris. While working on a case, Berry stumbles upon two things that will derail her life: evidence that her mom’s death wasn’t really a suicide, but the result of a complicated pharmaceutical disaster cover-up; and two hot boys who are keenly interested on the teens’ activities. Will Berry solve the mystery without hurting the people she loves or becoming a victim herself? And will the enigmatic and infuriating stranger turn out to be a friend or foe? Twists, turns, and big reveals will have readers guessing and gasping with every page turn in this frothy and fun whodunit.
With so many of Austen’s novels being adapted by Hollywood, it’s the perfect setting for Claire LaZebnik’s Epic Fail (HarperCollins, 2011). Newly transferred to L.A., sisters Elise and Juliana not only have to adjust to a new school and city, they also carry the burden of being the offspring of the principal at an elite prep school attended by the children of movie bigwigs. Beautiful and sweet Juliana captures the admiration of easygoing Chase, which means that independent Elise has to play nice with Derek, Chase’s best friend and the son of a celebrity. Considering that the moody Derek believes everyone is trying to mooch off of his princely status, he does not make a good first impression. LaZebnik not only gets the main protagonists just right, but she also injects secondary characters with the quirks and attributes readers have come to love and expect in an Austen novel (e.g. the girls’ mother is always starstruck and fishing for red carpet invites). The story will also be enjoyed by those who haven’t read Pride & Prejudice, especially teens besotted with the lives of America’s royalty. A fascinating look at the cost of stardom, rolled-up in a laugh-out-loud romantic romp.
Pride and Prejudice, Revamped
Still can’t get enough of Elizabeth and Darcy? Marvel has released a graphic novel edition of the classic (2009) adapted by Nancy Butler and artist Hugo Petrus. This abridged version employs the visual medium to great success, and led to the publication of similar renditions for Austen’s other novels: Sense and Sensibility (2010), Emma (2011), and Northanger Abbey (2012, all Marvel).
And for readers who are continuously on the lookout for zombie tales Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), and its prequel, Steve Hockensmith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010), and sequel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After (2011, all Quirk Books) are must-reads. While purists will moan and groan at the sacrilege, atypical Austen readers will appreciate the hook, and possibly be turned on to the source. The series spawned a monster mashup movement that shows no signs of abating.
No Austen roundup would be complete without a mention of Hank Green’s video blog series hit, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD). The Emmy Award-winning adaptation introduces the novel’s characters, plot points, and romance in a 100-episode production featuring videos two to eight minutes in length, accessible via YouTube. Reminiscent of the serialization format of 19thcentury novels, viewers are served increments of Lizzie Bennet’s (Ashley Clement) life, as she documents her family’s financial struggles, her sisters’ romantic woes, and the hilarious misunderstandings and miscommunications of friends and new acquaintances on her online “diary.”
Presented as a project for her Master’s degree, the clips feel all-too real as the “fourth” wall is removed and fans get an inside look at cynical and jaded 20-something Lizzie’s travails. Both those who know Pride and Prejudice and those who are coming to it for the first time will anticipate with equal enthusiasm the on-screen arrival of Darcy (Daniel Vincent Gordh), which finally occurs in episode 59. Most of the novel’s events are depicted via reenactments shot in Lizzie’s bedroom, but some scenes take place at other locations including Bing Lee’s Netherfield Mansion, Darcy’s company Pemberley Digital, of the Collins & Collins’s offices. The online adaptation charmingly engages with the original’s plot, while offering fresh twists, a diverse cast and modern sensibility, and up-to-date teen speak. Welcome to Sanditon and Emma Approved are follow-ups that fans will want to watch as well.
Looking for a mobile and fun way to engage with the beloved Pride and Prejudice? Well, there’s an app for that! Download Stride & Prejudice, an endless runner where the platforms are made from the classic’s text. The app is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and optimized for iPhone 5. The platform has a few hitches, but it’s a hilarious way to read through the novel on the go.
More Austen readalikes
The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik, (HarperCollins, 2013), a reimagining of Mansfield Park
For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, (HarperCollins, 2012), SLJ Best Book. A dystopian twist on Persuasion
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede (Harcourt, 2003). An epistolary fantasy set during a Napoleonic-era that accepts magic as real. The first of the The Cecelia and Kate Novels.
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, (S & S, 2011). A Regency-era middle grade novel with a sparky protagonist and a magical twist. The first book in a series.
Pies & Prejudice by Heather Vogel Frederick, (S & S, 2010). An entry in the literary The Mother-Daughter Book Club series for tweens.
Austen is a perennial inspiration for young adult authors, and she continues to be the springboard for future projects that will have readers engaging with her work for years to come.
For more on Jane Austen readalikes, see also
Adult Books 4 Teens
Review of Jo Baker’s Longbourn, in which Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice
Review of Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility, the first in a series of modern updates of Austen by well-known and celebrated authors.
Review of Midnight in Austenland, a companion to Shannon Hale’s Austenland
Readalikes for Welcome to Sanditon
Interview with Welcome to Sanditon creator
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