Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper

illus. by Manuela Santoni. 96p. chron. Graphic Universe. Oct. 2018. Tr $30.65. ISBN 9781541523661; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781541526433.
Gr 7 Up—This graphic novel reimagining of Jane Austen's defining romance will thrill her fans, especially those who enjoyed the film Becoming Jane, which starred Anne Hathaway. The work opens in 1817, with Austen's health failing, as she attempts to write to her sister Cassandra. In that letter, the lines between truth and fiction blur as she recalls her brief but passionate romance with Tom Lefroy, an Irish student of the law, which might have inspired her well-known Pride and Prejudice. In the first-person narration, Jane remembers her struggles with the "womanly" arts of embroidering and piano playing but revels in her love of jotting down observations of the daily goings-on of their small neighborhood. The teen's passion for writing grows but is called into question when the worldly Lefroy challenges her. The two quickly go from verbal sparring partners to a young couple in love. But with no money between them, their hopes of a lifelong match are dashed. Santoni's black-and-white illustrations present a dreamy fictionalized rendering of the celebrated author's life, from her exuberant youth to her burgeoning career. Her bold black lines bring drama to the fluid, sketchy art. The images vary from multiple sequential panels to full-page, expressive close-ups, adding to the sweeping feel of the tale. The volume includes a thorough time line and a long essay from Austen scholar Mara Barbuni about the Regency-era author's background and influence.
VERDICT This graphic novel is more suitable for leisurely reading than research, but Austen fans won't mind. A good choice where Janeites are plentiful.

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