Sunday, March 31, 2013

"When You Were Mine" Hates Women.


“When You Were Mine”
Author: Rebecca Searle
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 334.
Summary (taken from Goodreads): In this intensely romantic, modern recounting of the greatest love story ever told, Romeo’s original intended—Juliet’s cousin Rosaline—tells her side of the tale. What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: Everything.
Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy...and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance.

Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends…
Sometimes a book calls out to you, be it for all the right or wrong reasons. When it comes to re-imaginings of age-old tales and classics of the literary pantheon, one must tread lightly, particularly when entering the realm of William Shakespeare. It’s important to remember the cultural and historical context of his work when applying it to a modern day setting. It’s possible to remain faithful to the source material while still adapting it to fit today’s moral & societal changes. A good example of this is the movie “10 Things I Hate About You”, a high school retelling of the very archaic “The Taming of the Shrew”. Said play is pretty misogynist, emphasising the important of subduing a woman’s fiery spirit in favour of making her an obedient wife. In “10 Things I Hate About You”, the “shrewish” heroine does not change for a man, nor is she forced into it. Their romantic resolution is witty, equally matched and doesn’t rely on either of them completely changing their personalities. I highly recommend the film if you haven’t seen it. However, today’s review is about a less successful Shakespeare modern day retelling. “When You Were Mine” actually manages to be just as, if not more sexist than the play it’s taken from, the ever popular “Romeo and Juliet”.
I have a big revelation for you all, dear readers. It may shock you, it may not (I hope not), but I’m sick of the world still living by this false assumption in 2013 and think it’s time to set the record straight for the good of us all.
There is no such thing as a slut.
Seriously. They don’t exist.
If someone calls you a slut, then ask them to define it. Usually they can’t, or the definition changes with every person you ask.
That’s because there’s no such thing as a slut.
The term “slut”, and variations on that term, are so casually tossed around towards women, basically exist to shame women for being vaguely sexual, although they’re just as commonly used as insults to women for completely unrelated reasons (wearing a low-cut top is tantamount to being the whore of Babylon according to some). Women are often depicted as being manipulative, stupid, malicious or just plain evil solely based on their sexuality – they’re evil because they’re a slut, and they’re a slut because they’re evil. Poor innocent men are snatched from their true loves by those evil sluts, who don’t have real human emotions like the nice girls, and leave men completely merciless to their slutty wiles. These women all look a certain way – usually blonde, wearing lots of make-up and revealing clothing, often compared to porn stars or blow-up dolls, frequently cheerleaders. Many jokes will be made about sexually transmitted diseases towards these sluts, although male “players” are clean on this front. More often than not, bad things happen to these women, but don’t worry, because they deserve it.
Remember, these women don’t exist.
I stress this because after reading “When You Were Mine”, I seriously began to believe that the author, a woman herself, hates other women, or had a cousin who seriously messed with her at some point during her life. In this modern version of the oft-imitated tale of star-crossed lovers, Rosaline is beginning a relationship with Rob Caplet (see what they did there?) just as her cousin Juliet returns to the scene and immediately snatches him away. Rob goes from being besotted with Rosaline to completely obsessing over Juliet, that slut. Juliet is, of course, a heavy make-up wearing spoiled brat with bleach blonde hair who snatches away innocent men and turns them into little lapdogs. But never fear, good readers, because underneath that harsh and fake exterior is a broken little girl who is just jealous of her plain but intelligent cousin, and will meet a tragic end that will be entirely blamed on her.
Do you see where this book goes wrong?
In “Romeo and Juliet”, Rosaline is never on stage, and serves more as a plot point than anything else. She is a means for Romeo to attend the Capulet family’s party and meet Juliet, his true love. A lot of great literary analysis has been written on her and I implore you to check some out because you won’t find any of that here. In the play, where Rosaline serves as a contrast and plot point, here she is the angel to Juliet’s whore. The naïve teenage girl consumed by first love in the face of petty familiar conflict has been turned into a slut, and later on a dead slut.
This is not okay.
There is literally nothing else to Juliet’s character except her evil sluttiness and the consequences of it. In this book, being a slut is literally described as being a defining quality!
 "Charlie says there's a difference between being a slut and being slutty. She thinks Olivia was slutty for hooking up with the Belgian, but she would never call her a slut. Her theory is that the distinction is between how you act and who you are. Olivia's was an action, whereas Darcy's is a defining quality."
Charlie and Olivia are Rosaline’s friends. So there you go – good friends can be slutty but they’re never sluts. That’s for other women.
Juliet is entirely blamed for Rob’s actions, which is both sexist and daft. The last time I checked, men were autonomous creatures completely capable of doing as they pleased. Women can do that sometimes as well. By putting all the blame on Juliet for Rob’s actions (as if his penis just fell into her vagina), his responsibility is completely removed from him. He’s not a victim; he knew exactly what he was doing! Of course, in the end he tries to run back to the good and sweet Rosaline, but it all ends badly (do I even need spoiler alerts for “Romeo & Juliet”?) because that is the normal way of things. In 2013.
I actually have nothing else to say about this book because I can’t remember a single thing about it outside of the weapons grade level of slut-shaming. Taylor Swift looks like bell hooks in comparison to “When You Were Mine”. I honestly can’t get over how much this book hates women. It’s archaic and makes Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era play look progressive in comparison. At least in “Romeo & Juliet” the pair were supposed to be blind with infatuation and Juliet didn’t shove the poison down Romeo’s mouth. It’s not as if the original material is untouchable, and it’s not as if there isn’t great potential in giving some depth to Rosaline, but absolutely no effort is put into that here because the author is so concerned with demonising Juliet to the point of insanity. Take my advice and stick to the source: It’s better written, makes some sense and doesn’t loathe women.
1/5. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

“Food Glorious Food”: Attitudes Towards Food & The Unsettling Focus on Women’s Diet in YA & NA.


I like food. While I’m something of a fussy eater and can only cook a limited number of dishes in a semi-competent manner, inside I am a complete foodie who watches far too many cooking shows, browses cookbooks and blogs for fun and dreams of living life Nigella style. I’m also a complete sucker for food in film and literature. However, there’s been this strange trend in YA, and more recently NA, in regards to food that’s unsettled me for quite some time. Like all problematic things (joking, of course), it begins with “Twilight” and is emphasised in its official fan-fiction “50 Shades of Grey”. In one scene, Edward takes Bella out to dinner, even though she protests and insists she isn’t hungry. In the fan-fiction, Edward/Christian has dietary requirements written into his kinky contract with Bella/Ana, and seems to constantly talk about whether or not she’s eating. I most recently saw this trend appear in Abbi Glines’s “Fallen Too Far”, with the designated love interest becoming pretty angry over the heroine’s refusal to accept his offer of food from his fridge.

This trend unsettles me for a number of reasons, but first, let’s have some cultural context. From 2011 to 2012, hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 16% in England. 1 in every 10 of those admissions was a 15 year old girl. In USA, it is estimated that over 24million people have some form of eating disorder, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The UK has the most overweight population in Europe, whilst a 2010 study showed that obesity had overtaken smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in America. The developed world has an unhealthy attitude towards food, exacerbated by the growing poverty gap, lack of cheap and healthy dietary alternatives, and a media with an extremely narrow focus on specific body types that they consider acceptable. I’m not for one second saying that the focus on food and women’s diets in YA and NA is directly responsible for eating disorders. That’s highly irresponsible and inaccurate. However, I am keen to suggest that this trend is indicative of a particular attitude that our media has towards women and their bodies.

When these male characters insist, with varying degrees of verbal force, that they know best on the heroine’s diet, it asserts an almost parental dynamic between the pair. The man is simply being parental. He knows better on this issue, and this is confirmed when the heroine finally gives in and eats, only to realise that she was indeed hungry the whole time, despite her protests. It’s a continuation of a wider them present in these books – that the man is always right in his quest to “protect” his love, be it from supernatural purposes or just from herself, and the heroine is a “good girl” for doing as she’s told. Here’s an example of this, from our old favourite, “Twilight”:

                “Drink”, he ordered.
I sipped at my soda obediently, and then drank more deeply, surprised by how thirsty I was. I realised I had finished the whole thing when he pushed his glass toward me. (Trade paperback, page 169).

I can understand the justification somewhat for this scene given that it follows a scene where Bella is almost attacked by a gang of would-be rapists, so she’d probably be flooded with adrenaline and in need of some proper nourishment, but given the pattern of controlling behaviour from Edward that continues throughout those four books, it’s tough to ignore the wider implication.

It’s also worth noting that in the vast majority of mainstream YA and NA romances, the heroine is described as thin (or curvy in all the right places, a phrase that makes me want to pull out my eyelashes) and attractive, regardless of her diet. A particularly extreme example of this can be found in Aprilynne Pike’s “Wings” series, where the heroine consumes nothing but tinned fruit and Diet Coke and nobody bats an eyelid. She is, of course, described as gorgeous constantly, although if anyone in real life had this diet, they’d probably be sent to a doctor with severe malnutrition (yes, I know she’s a fairy and everything, but she lived 16 years as a human and nobody thought “Hey, this is a bit odd, maybe we should look into this?” Come on. Lazy writing). It doesn’t help that we seldom see any other body types on the covers of YA novels. Often this is glossed over on the cover, as was the instance with the US ARC of Rae Carson’s “The Girl of Fire and Thorns”, with a side order of white-washing.

So why is this a thing in romance? Personally, I think a lot of it comes from a desire to be looked after. This is very much the case in New Adult romances these days, where I continue to be surprised when the designated controlling love interest allows the heroine to leave the house on her own. Having her nutrition needs taken care of is part of the overarching theme of being looked after by a man whose adoration dips frequently into obsession. It also removes some of the guilt that many women feel over eating and enjoying their food. “Fat” is a go-to insult to fling at any woman, regardless of her weight or BMI, so creating a scenario where the adoring gorgeous Joe Six-Pack not only wants you to eat food but makes it for you himself takes out some of the insecurities. Even though these women are constantly described as beautiful, many of them remain insecure about their looks. I understand that this is supposed to make her more relatable to the reader but ultimately that also presents many other problems. Some of us women are very happy with the way we look, thank you very much! We can still relate to a character if she admits that she’s gorgeous.

Another version of this food angle that I hate involves the man bragging about how much he loves a woman who eats “real” food like steaks and burgers and not silly little salads. Strangely enough, salads are real food and can be just as enjoyable as a burger (particularly some of Nigella’s salads). It’s similar to the tired and aggravating mantra that “real women have curves”. Newsflash: You can be a size 0 or a size 20 but you’ll still be a “real woman”. Your gender identity is not dictated by your body type.

Finding body positive media is tough enough, although a lot easier nowadays with the internet at our disposal, so finding heroines of all shapes and sizes who differ from the default mode (skinny, white, always described as pretty or variations of that word) can be hard. I don’t mind what a heroine eats throughout her story as long as she’s made that choice herself. When a male character enters the scene and begins to dictate how she should live her life, be it through making her dietary choices or controlling who she sees or talks to, it removes the woman’s autonomy over her own life. There’s something very wrong with all of these things being considered romantic, as I have discussed many times before (and will continue to do so if the New York Times best-seller lists are anything to go by). Not only that, the lack of body positivity in the genre is incredibly disappointing. For a genre that prides itself on inclusivity and progressiveness, this is such an obvious area that’s just being ignored. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Review: "Annie on My Mind" by Nancy Garden.

 

 

"Annie on My Mind"

Author: Nancy Garden

 

Publisher: 1992 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published July 1st 1982)

Pages: 233 (paperback edition).

 

Summary (taken from Goodreads): This groundbreaking book is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings. This book is so truthful and honest, it has been banned from many school libraries and even publicly burned in Kansas City.

 

Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”

 

 

I am embarrassingly behind on reading most of the books that often grace the banned/challenged list. One that’s often caught my eye was Annie On My Mind, which continues to receive vitriol for its portrayal of two young women who fall in love with each other.

 

Young Adult as a genre has come a long way. Sure, there are the major setbacks of romanticizing abuse and cringe-worthy "teenspeak", but while there's the obligatory uproar over LGBT subjects, they are no longer the rarity. Books like Boy Meets Boy, Empress of the World, Luna, and countless others are available to teens everywhere in most libraries, bookstores, and of course online. It’s not as quite as barren out there as it was when I was in high school, which was about fifteen years ago. Yes, I’m old.

 

Annie On My Mind came out in the early eighties, when being gay was still equated with AIDS and books that portrayed homosexuals in a positive light were few and far between. It's quite dated, as the dialogue and characterization in the first half of the book is stilted and awkward. An example:

 

(pg. 12 in the paperback edition I read)

"We're terribly sorry, sir," Annie said, with a look of such innocence I didn't see how anyone could possibly be angry at her. "The knights are so-so splendid! I've never seen them before - I got carried away."

"Harrumph!" the guard said, loosening his hold on my shoulder and saying again, "Old enough to know better, both of you."

 

It's worth pressing on, however, because truly shines once the story focuses on the relationship between Annie and Liza. Annie has already faced her attraction to other girls, but the affection that Liza feels for Annie is all new to her. Her subsequent frustration with Annie and herself feels genuine, but the stilted dialogue still carries through until their relationship becomes more serious. It’s then that the book seems to truly focus on the subject matter, which is the love story between these characters and the effect it has on their community.

 

Naturally they find opposition, mostly when Liza’s private school discovers their relationship (as well as a similar one). Liza, being the student council president, is quite literally threatened when a couple of meddling school administrators decide to hold a trial of sorts to determine if Liza will keep her position, stay in the school, and have her “deviance” put on her permanent record, thus ruining her chances at going to MIT.

 

Ultimately Liza comes to the realization that her love for Annie is what was put on trial:

(pg. 199)

 

It's Annie and me they're all sitting around here like cardboard people judging; it's Annie and me. And what we did that they think is wrong, when you pare it all down, was fall in love.

It’s this message that makes this book a winner for me. Dated references and cartoonish depictions aside, Annie on My Mind is a love story for the ages. I tend to dislike romance as a genre and I’m also a die-hard cynic, but the end had me choked up.

This book is very much archaic by today’s standards. Annie and Liza argue over things that seem flat out ridiculous (which tapestry to sit by where they eat their lunch…really?) and while it’s obvious that they’ve started having sex, the act is barely mentioned in passing. Of course Annie On My Mind didn’t need sex scenes, but while Liza does notice Annie’s physical attributes, we don’t really go into her thought process with her sexual attraction to another girl, which could be helpful to young adults who are struggling with their attraction and desire.

It may not feel like it, but we’re starting to move in the right direction as far as LBGT issues are concerned. Gay couples are depicted in popular TV shows and movies, and coming out is no longer a death sentence to an entertainer’s career. In real life, hate speech directed towards LBGT people isn’t as tolerated as it once was, which isn’t to say it never happens, but people notice these things now and speak up against it. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there. Keeping that in mind, it’s essential that books like these are read and discussed, because while it certainly has its faults, it’s the love story that prevails.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: "Fallen Too Far" by Abbi Glines.


“Fallen Too Far”
Author: Abbi Glines
Publisher: Self-published.
Pages: 207 (Kindle edition).
Summary (taken from Goodreads): To want what you’re not supposed to have…
She is only nineteen.
She is his new stepfather’s daughter. 
She is still naïve and innocent due to spending the last three years taking care of her sick mother. 
But for twenty-four year old Rush Finlay, she is the only thing that has ever been off limits. His famous father’s guilt money, his mother’s desperation to win his love, and his charm are the three reasons he has never been told no.
Blaire Wynn left her small farmhouse in Alabama, after her mother passed away, to move in with her father and his new wife in their sprawling beach house along the Florida gulf coast. She isn’t prepared for the lifestyle change and she knows she’ll never fit into this world. Then there is her sexy stepbrother who her father leaves her with for the summer while he runs off to Paris with his wife. Rush is as spoiled as he is gorgeous. He is also getting under her skin. She knows he is anything but good for her and that he’ll never be faithful to anyone. He is jaded and has secrets Blaire knows she may never uncover but even knowing all of that…

Blaire just may have fallen too far.
I think I should just give up trying with New Adult literature. So far, the genre has offered none of the maturity or complexities of the liminal period between teen years and full-on adulthood, instead preferring what merely amount to college age erotic romances with a hefty side dish of misogyny. Indeed, the frequency with which sexist portrayals of women and relationships appear throughout works labelled New Adult suggests that the pair go hand in hand. While “Fallen Too Far” didn’t reach the despicable lows of “Thoughtless”, it did come pretty close thanks to its incredibly unsettling portrayals of women and relationships.
Let’s start with one issue this book presents that I think represents a real disconnect from the contemporary world it claims to depict. Blaire moves from Alabama to Florida to live with her father after the death of her mother, with nothing but $20 in her pocket and a rusty old vehicle. She needs a job to make enough money to get a place for herself. The book is set in 2012 America. We currently live in a world of falling living standards, rising unemployment and a widening gap between the working and middle classes. This applies not only to USA but to most of what is known as the developed world. Blaire is a 19 year old high school dropout with a GED and some brief experience in a couple of after school jobs. Within one day of moving to a completely strange place, she has a well-paying job at a country club, where she is frequently given $50 and $100 tips. She literally walks into this place, says she wants a job and is given one with barely any questions asked. This bugged me for a number of reasons, the main one being that it was insultingly unrealistic. The defenders of New Adult keep talking about how this burgeoning genre has such amazing potential to depict real-life situations that modern young people face every-day, from the personal to the political. Glines took the cheapest route possible with what could have been an interesting twist on the contemporary drama. Unemployment and money troubles are huge issues for my generation, and those stories are dying to be told, so seeing the heroine have it all handed to her so easily (and really? $100 tips?) felt like a real slap in the face. I’ve talked before about how YA and romance tend to fetishise wealth, and “Fallen Too Far” does this to some degree. While it’s made explicit to us that the country club regulars are all lecherous old men or “jealous sluts”, the designated love interest Rush is conveniently very wealthy and will never have to worry about money.
Once again, we have another New Adult book where Those Other Women fall into one camp of characterisation – bitches and sluts. If they’re not unreasonably jealous of the beautiful and perfect gun toting virgin Blaire, they’re throwing themselves over Rush or begging for sex constantly. Even side characters, such as country club worker Darla, seem to have nothing but sex on the brain, as she tells Blaire to essentially sex herself up for tips. The virgin/whore complex is rampant throughout. Every single woman in this book who isn’t the heroine is shamed in some manner, be it by the heroine herself or the men around them. It’s the laziest characterisation imaginable and it’s also horrifyingly sexist, particularly when coupled with the male characters of the story, who seem to be nothing but walking erections. Every man in this book except for Blaire’s father leers at her, openly proposition her and make it very clear what they want to do to her. Not only are women seen as objects throughout this novel, every woman aside from Blaire is portrayed as one.
Unfortunately, not even the sainted heroine makes it out of this damaging double standard unscathed. Yet again, we have another NA romance where the heroine is simultaneously infantilised and sexualised by the designated love interest. Rush is very controlling (of course), getting angry when Blaire turns down his offer of food (and of course we have another romantic hero who is obsessed with getting the woman to eat, although shudder to think any of these authors would ever portray the heroine as anything other than the stereotypical skinny size), and talking about Blaire as if she’s an object. He’s obsessed with other men touching her or wanting to touch her because apparently they don’t deserve to touch her. The book also includes the delightful line “Your pussy is mine” (to paraphrase it, I didn’t write it down for obvious reasons). The sex scenes are as awful as you imagine them to be, chock full of cringe-worthy dialogue about how hot, tight and deep the sexual experience is. You’re not drilling for oil, Rush, you’re having sex, and being “so in the moment” that you forgot to put a condom on makes you a fuckwit, not a romantic. The “romance” is more lust-based than anything else (of course), with no discernible reason given for why they’re so dramatically in love other than they’re both gorgeous (of course). It seems to come from nowhere in the beginning – Rush goes from being cold and showing absolutely no interest in his step-sister to telling her to stay away to throwing her against a wall in lust to getting angry when others flirt with her at her place of work. It was exhausting, but not as exhausting as the pathetically weak attempts at plotting, characterisation and grammar.
I don’t care if your book if self-published. If you let it out into the real world and charge money for it, there is no excuse for sloppy grammar and spelling. There weren’t just one or two slips. There were countless examples of this sloppiness. I don’t know who is editing Glines’s work, if anyone is, but it needs to be sorted out. If you want to call yourself a professional author, you need to act professional.
The dialogue is sloppy and predictable, ticking off all the expected boxes of New Adult angst and all-consuming lust (because I refuse to call what these books portray love). The attempts at ambiguity and tension fail miserably because everything is so obvious. There is absolutely no reason for any of the supposed deep dark secrets of Rush and his “bitchy” “spoiled brat” sister Nan to be kept secret. They’re kept secret solely to push forward the bare threads of a plot. The deliberate withholding of information for no reason other than it needs to be withheld for there to be a story is incredibly sloppy writing. When the “cliff-hanger” ending is revealed, we’re left with nothing but a weak excuse for a cash-in sequel.
It’s not just that this so-called contemporary romance is unrealistic and chooses the easy way out over tackling the real world issues of our generation. It’s not just that it’s badly written and terribly edited. It’s not just that there are spelling errors and misplaced punctuation and pacing issues. It’s not just that it’s incredibly sexist, romanticised yet another controlling and unhealthy relationship, all the while shaming women in a way that made my skin crawl. It’s not just that the sex scenes were a mixture of laughable dialogue, irresponsibility and sheer boredom. It’s not just all those things. It’s that “Fallen Too Far”, for all its genre in its sexism, laziness, internalised misogyny and sloppiness, is what we’ve now come to expect from New Adult literature. It exemplifies exactly why this genre has failed to meet its most basic potential. All these books, from “Fallen Too Far” to “Beautiful Disaster” to “Thoughtless”, make me feel a little bit dirty. There is something seriously wrong with normalising stuff like this as romantic and sexy. “Fallen Too Far” was detestable. Avoid.
0/5. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

“Prom & Prejudice” by Elizabeth Eulberg and its Failure as an Austen Re-Imagining.


“Prom & Prejudice”
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg.
Length: 231 pages.

Publisher: Point.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): From the much-buzzed-about author of THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB (already blurbed by Stephenie Meyer, Lauren Myracle, and Jen Calonita), a prom-season delight of Jane Austen proportions.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.
After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn't interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be - especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.
Lizzie is happy about her friend's burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles's friend, Will Darcy, who's snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn't seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it's because her family doesn't have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk - so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Everyone knows something about “Pride and Prejudice”, even if it’s only fragments of a plot or character they’ve gleamed from a TV show or internet review or Googling pictures of a dripping wet Colin Firth. The iconic story of social standings, misunderstandings and the oft-imitated Lizzie and Mr Darcy has had an indelible impact on literature at large, particularly YA and romance (two genres which are heavily entwined). The chances are that you have seen or read at least one version of the story, be it through the diary of Bridget Jones or the undead twists of Seth Graheme-Smith. Elizabeth Eulberg, former publicist to one Stephenie Meyer, brings her own twist to the table, through the scope of a privileged boarding school, where connections are key and the end of year prom is the highlight of the social calendar. So far, so typical for the tale. However, where Eulberg’s book fails in the same way countless Austen re-imaginings before it have failed.

High schools, on the surface, seem like an ideal setting for a modern day Austen re-telling. Many of the social mores and expectations present in the original tale translate surprisingly well to the heightened teenage stakes so commonly found in teen comedies and dramas. “Clueless” stands as arguably the most effective  adaptation of “Emma” because it understands how to remain honest to the source material while still leaving enough wriggle room to allow for necessary deviations. “Prom and Prejudice” does none of that. It takes the shallowest reading of the source material imaginable and joins the dots to form a coherent and recognisable adaptation of the story, but with none of the wit, charm or social commentary of the original. Eulberg is so desperate to be as honest to the plotting of the original work that she ends up regurgitating each plot point and leaves behind something that’s not particularly enjoyable (although it’s a very quick, mindless read) and incredibly dull. While a re-telling of something as iconic as “Pride and Prejudice” requires some faithfulness to the material, with a basic understanding of what Austen was trying to discuss, simply recounting it with a few minor contemporary changes is utterly pointless.

There’s no spark to this tale at all. Lizzie is a scholarship student at a prestigious school, where she is bullied mercilessly for not being as privileged as her classmates, while Darcy is the wealthy boy from the nearby boys’ school who she takes an immediate dislike to. The stakes just aren’t there for this story – prom invites aren’t exactly marriage proposals, and the author totally failed to make me feel the importance of the social workings of this world. Just being told that prom is important is not enough. It didn’t help that all the snooty rich bullies Lizzie went to school with were as fully developed as the villains from the Tintin comics. None of the teenagers in this story talk like teenagers: They talk like lazy Austen rip-offs read by twenty something adults. The dialogue feels so completely at odds with how the rest of the book is written. The style jumps from colloquial teenagers to 19th century formality as found in the summaries of Spark Notes. Given that the novel is set in America, yet everyone talks like Regency England, I can’t help but think Eulberg was forced to rush this book out by an impatient editor.

Overall, “Prom and Prejudice” is a fluffy and quick read that I finished in about 3 hours, including tea breaks, but as an Austen adaptation, it is decidedly underwhelming, the shallowest take on the source material imaginable. There are glimmers of potential within the story – tackling the saturation of consumerism amongst the teenage generation, the American class system – but they’re ignored in favour of showing how this book is so totally like Austen but with a modern twist, and in the end it feels patronising and irritating. If you want an Austen re-telling that actually manages to balance fluff and satire in a modern setting, take “Clueless” every single time.

2/5.