It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". From nowhere comes a quiet 'tsk' of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go - sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love - perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending.
I read this with my bookclub, so I'm actually going to give you my thoughts on the book, and some of theirs. Let me start by saying that though I don't think this is the book for everyone, and I debate the "gimmickiness" of the premise, I really enjoyed myself reading this book. It had it's drawbacks, but I really did like it more than I generally like Austen spin-offs or contemporary fiction. I was leery of the whole "Jane's voice in my head" thing, just because I thought it had the potential to be either really cheesy or just really off. For the most part, I think Brant did a good job of creating Austen-the-character, and it managed to be plausible (as far as such a scenario can be plausible; there is always the question of the reason Elie has Jane's voice in her head, but that resolution is a fun one). There were times when I couldn't upkeep the willing suspension of disbelief, and found myself wondering if Elie was prone to slipping and speaking aloud to Jane, and thinking that even if she didn't slip up and speak aloud, she still had to have many moments where she just goes a bit blank and gets all internal, and that this must make people debate her sanity. These thoughts intruded, but for the most part, I didn't let it bother me -- and it was an issue that wasn't completely ignored, either, which I have to give Brant credit for.
Many of the people in my bookclub didn't care for it, and I think the reasons -- beyond that of some of them not having read Jane, which obviously limited their view of the book -- I think that their reasons were some of those I picked up on. There were those who just didn't buy the premise, and those who found Elie annoying. I do want to talk about this one, because there were times when Elie was so desperate to be married and have a happily ever after ala Jane that she did bug me; most of the time, this wasn't the case, but this was a drawback for me. Beyond these two bigger flaws, though, and some doubt about the (eventual, obvious) relationship between two main characters, my bookclub didn't offer too many reasons -- some didn't really like Sam, I don't think, and I'm not sure I buy the "maturity in hindsight" angle, but I have to admit I couldn't keep myself from liking him; even, like Elie, against my will. I think overall it was more of a feel, and if they didn't get or like a feel for Elie, they checked out of the book pretty quickly.
Those who did like the book (self included), thought it very funny and light. There is a certain scene (and man, I wish I could just share it with you) that is simple one of the funniest things I've ever read. It's completely inappropriate and awful, but man, I laughed aloud and read it over and cringed and laughed all over again. Let me say, you'll definitely know it when you read it, so when you do, just know I'm cringe/laughing along with you... I also think the concept, where it worked, was a lot of fun and provided interest, and the contemporary take really worked for this. The Austen obsession is in full effect in this, to the extreme, and it's fun to read because of that. It's a frothy and sometimes silly, sometimes bittersweet story, and I enjoyed myself reading it. And if your bookclub is anything like mine, can I just say that reading the more...risque bits aloud is a lot of fun...