Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

[Note, since we are still tweaking the blog, I'm trying something new and changing our scale from 1-10 to 1-5. I think it will help make our relative opinions clearer...]

How Excited Was I To Read This Book? 5/5. The title didn’t tell me much, but it came recommended by Megan from YA Why Not? And I absolutely love getting book recommendations!

How Excited Was I After I Read This Book? 4/5. I’m knocking it down one notch because it could have been more, y’know?

Book Jacket: “There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast.” Julie knows from bitter experience: her best friend, Ashleigh, is an Enthusiast. Ashleigh’s current fancy is also Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice, and the heroine’s quest for True Love. And so Julie finds herself swept along with Ashleigh, dressed in vintage frocks and sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys’ prep school. There they discover several likely candidates for True Love, including the handsome and sensitive Parr. And Julie begins to wonder if maybe this obsession of Ashleigh’s isn’t so bad after all. . . .

Review: First things first, let’s be clear: this is not a modern reinvention of Pride and Prejudice. Or any other Jane Austen novel. And that’s a good thing! I like a good re-imagining as much as the next fan-girl, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover Schulman took an entirely different approach. Instead, the book was sort of infused with Jane Austen. I liked that.

Our main character, Julie or Julia, depending on who’s asking, is a cross between an Anne Elliot and an Elinor Dashwood. She’s sensible, of course, but also a very nice, self-sacrificing type. In other words, destined to pine. The foil to her Elinor is her next-door neighbor and best friend Ashleigh, a Marianne for sure. Ashleigh is prone to all-consuming phases. The book begins as she has just entered a Jane Austen phase. In order to really get into the spirit of things, she doesn’t just read the novels, she decides to live them.

I’m not sure I can be entirely fair in judging Ashleigh because at heart I might be a bit of an Enthusiast myself. I dressed up as Katniss to see the Hunger Games (complete with marshmallow-shooting bow and arrow – unloaded, unfortunately). This was definite Enthusiast behavior! And more generally, I don’t really like to do things half way. Case in point: blogging. I’m loving it. And constantly thinking about new posts and ideas I want to feature in the future!

So my relationship with Ashleigh was… ambivalent. Julie, on the other hand, had me from page one. She completely won me over through her verbal expressions, of all things. She was constantly dropping these random hilarious phrases. Examples: “Are you out of your candy wrapper?” “It’s long past a bat’s bedtime.” “Well that’s as clear as crumb cake.” Like many of her metaphors, they were delicious!

Now on to the plot! Ashleigh decides that she and Julia should gate-crash the local private boy’s school’s fall formal in a search for their own Darcy/Bingley true love combo. And sure enough, they meet two young men who conform to the descriptions rather nicely: tall, dark Grandison Parr (he writes poetry, go figure) and his friend Ned (“the Noodle”).

Here we come to my first quibble. I CANNOT take a boy seriously whose name is Grandison. Maybe if I met a real live Grandison. But in the context of this novel, I couldn’t handle it. I also had some trouble taking Julia seriously. Polly Shulman is definitely a romantic at heart, so Julia’s supposed level-headedness fell flat for me. I think the author’s sensibilities shone through a little too strongly. My sensible 17-year old self would not say things like, “If his heart was free…,” even to myself.

OH, and there was a moment when I physically winced. Julia kisses her computer screen when she receives an e-mail from her Mr. Darcy. DID SHE HAVE TO KISS THE COMPUTER SCREEN? Maybe I’m just getting too crotchety with old age.

But never fear! There was redemption! The book’s melodrama provided highs, as well as lows. I’ve admitted that I physically winced at one point… but I also audibly squealed not long after! I think we may have to add “Did This Book Invoke a Physical or Verbal Response Mid-Read from Me?” as a review category. It’s very telling. Any author that gets an audible squeee from me is doing something right in my book!

Recommended for: Romantics and Jane Austen fans. But let’s face it, aren’t those really just the same thing?

If You Liked This Book You Should Also Check Out: Take A Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, which I reviewed here! Also Prom and Prejudice, by the same author. I might add Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik, another recent contemporary Jane Austen adaptation, but I didn’t like it! My sister did though, so take that with a grain of salt!