Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

What if Elizabeth and Darcy were high school students? That's the basic premise of Prom & Prejudice.

The book is mostly set at Longbourn Academy for girls and Pemberley Academy for boys: two private high schools in Connecticut for children of the rich and famous (most of whom seem to live in or near New York City). Of course, both schools take the occasional scholarship student, which is how high school junior Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bennet comes to be at Longbourn on a piano and academic scholarship. She was extremely fortunate to be assigned the sweet-natured Jane as a roommate, since so many of the girls at Longbourn are set on making her life a living hell. Malicious pranks are the order of her day, ranging from throwing a milkshake in her face to dumping coffee on her dress to stealing her coat at a restaurant in the middle of winter. Her only friends at Longbourn are Jane, who is just about the kindest person on the planet, and the only other scholarship student at the school, a girl named Charlotte.

Charles Bingley and Will Darcy are both juniors at Pemberley Academy. They spent the fall semester in London on some sort of foreign study program, along with Charles's twin sister, Caroline. Caroline is good friends with a perfectly horrible girl named Cat De Bourgh. Other characters include Jane's younger sister, Lydia, a freshman at Longbourn, Darcy's younger sister, Georgie, a freshman somewhere that is notLongbourn, Colin Williams, a rather tedious junior at Pemberley, and George "Wick" Wickham, a former scholarship student at Pemberley who got himself expelled. Lizzie is putting up with the horrible climate at Longbourn because she gets to study piano with Mrs Gardiner, one of the best instructors in the area. Lizzie wants to be a concert pianist, you see.

If you've read Pride & Prejudice, you know that Jane and Charles are destined to go to prom together (the high school substitute for marriage, evidently – and a welcome substitution if a concrete goal is to exist), and that Lizzie and Darcy are meant for each other as well. What you might not know is all the steps along the way, now that the protagonists are both high school juniors. And there's a lovely, unexpected twist to the ending that made me happy-happy-happy and gave the entire book deeper resonance. Just so you know.

Eulberg does a terrific job skimming the major plot points from Pride & Prejudice and running them through some sort of high school translation program. The long letter that Darcy delivers to Elizabeth in Austen's book is now a lengthy email, for example. And the activities that got Wick expelled from Pemberley are as horrifying to the modern reader as the sins laid at Wickham's feet in Austen's novel would have been to early 19th-century readers. The book manages to examine both the love relationships and at least some of the class issues found in Austen's book, and is a decidedly enjoyable read.

In the interest of full confession, M gave me crap for buying it the other day. Judging the book by its (very pink) cover and its title (a clear nod to Austen's novel), she figured it would be a waste of my time. I very much wanted to read it because, as many of you already know, I am currently working on a contemporary YA romance. What I haven't told you yet is that my current WIP is based on another of Austen's novels, so you can see how I'd be interested in Eulberg's book as part of my market research. Having gulped it down in one long (and late) sitting last night, I can assure you that it was a perfectly wonderful use of my time, and that I will make every effort to bludgeon M into reading it help M overcome her bias against bright pink books and Austen-related titles.

A lovely confection and a thoroughly delightful read, the book is recommended for fans of Austen's work as well as fans of contemporary YA romance. Though tamer than the Gossip Girl books, it'd be right up the alley of many of that series' readers, and perfect for those of you who especially like musically-inclined main characters, lifestyles of the rich & famous teens, or boarding school tropes. (You know who you are.)

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