Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman – A Review

I had a blast reading Polly Shulman’s novel Enthusiasm, her hommage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! It had been released in 2006 and was on my ‘to be read’ list for quite some time until I felt the need for something summerish and light to read. Since it is classified as a young adult novel for grades 7-10, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a less than sparkling plot and characterizations. My assumptions were so wrong! Totally!

It is quite amazing to think that this is Shulman’s first novel! If you check out her picture on her web site she looks barley old enough to be ‘out’ in society!. Educated at Yale Univeristy as a mathematician, she obviously possesses both left and right brain skills! This writer is pea green with envy and is in total awe of this level of talent in one so young. Like Jane Austen, Shulman is all about language, social observation and characterization. It is easy to see why Austen is one of her favorite authors and how she inspired her writing.

The book’s auspicious opening quote, “There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast” sets the tone of Austen-esque language throughout the novel that is respectful but not mimicy to Austen’s prose. The narrative is told from the perspective of fifteen-year old Julie, whose best friend since grade school is Ashleigh, an ‘enthusiast’. From Harriet the Spy to candy-making to military strategy, Julie never knows what or when the next craze will over-take her friend, but she is certain to be pulled into it. Now, her latest inspiration is also Julie’s passion, Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. However, Ashleigh’s new possession of Regency manners and decorum mortify her conservative friend. Not only do they include speaking in Austenese, but wearing Regency attire to school, learning to country dance like her idols Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and ultimately, the ardent pursuit of her own true love. Ashleigh’s latest hair-brain scheme is to find their Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley by crashing a boy’s prep school dance!

Knowing Austen’s world through her novels and movie adaptations was helpful, but not a prerequisite to enjoying this delightful novel. By following Julie’s 21st-century hardships, anxieties, mix-ups, and social blunderings we see that they are interchangeable with any 19th-century Regency Miss’ life; — for what young lady of any era does not wish, hope, and dream that a young gentleman will notice her, and return her affections?

4 out of 5 Stars

Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman
Puffin, New York (2007)
Trade paperback (208) pages
ISBN:  978-0142409350

Additional Reviews

© Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

11 thoughts on “Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman – A Review

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  1. Thanks for the solid recommendation. I was just yesterday put in charge of ordering the library’s YA books – Enthusiasm will certainly make it to the list!



  2. So glad to hear you enjoyed a YA book so much – maybe next time you won’t assume a book has a “less than sparkling plot” just because it was written for teens. :) As a high school librarian, I read mostly YA books and many of them are better written than books for adults! YA has come a long way in the last 15 years, and Schulman’s book is only one example of the excellent books being published for teens.


  3. I read this earlier this year. It was an enjoyable read. I think, had I read this as a teenager I would have been completely smitten with Paar. :-)


  4. Delighted to see this reviewed here. I loved this book and found it a far worthier homage to Austen than most adult fare that aspires to that.


  5. I am so glad that others enjoyed this book also. On the author’s web site, she mentions that she is writing another book, so hopefully soon, we shall have another treat to look forward to.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann


  6. Hi Laurel Ann, thank you for this great summer reading suggestion! I was in my library tonight and happily found it on the shelf, and even happier to see it well-worn and obviously checked-out often and loved …so I look forward to reading it!


  7. I’m the author of Enthusiasm–thank you for the kind words! How thrilling & gratifying to find my little book meeting with the approval of fellow Austen enthusiasts. I can’t think of another category of people I would more like it to please.

    But Laurel Ann, I’m not nearly as young as you seem to think–by the time she was my age, Jane Austen (alas for all of us) had been dead for several years.



  8. Hi Polly, what a surprise and pleasure to hear from you! As you can see from the comments, your ‘little book’ as you call it, is quite a hit, and worthy of continued praise. It was a delight to read, and recommend.

    My aplogies my dear for mis-judging your age, but what a complement all-the-same! It must be the Gowland’s lotion that Sir Walter Elliot recommended to you. It has been rumoured to be a great preserver of youth, and now we have the proof.

    Please keep us informed on the publishing of your new book, and thank you again for stopping by.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

    P.S. Paar is so dishy!


  9. This book was and incredible take on a Jane Austen novel. Being a “Jane-junkie” myself, I completely approved of this. Partially because I was younger than the recommendation, some material seemed a little awkward for me. But, age does not matter when it comes to reading fine literature in my opinion.
    Brooke (Age 12, present day)

    P.S. Laurel Ann did a fantastic job with this review, and I am now considering her as one of my nominees for best book-reviewer in my journalism club. She practically took the words right out of my mouth, except made them sound better!!!


    1. Thanks for your kind words Brooke. I am glad you enjoyed Enthusiasm. It was a delight for me too.

      You are quite eloquent for a 12 year-old. Keep reading a writing and soon you will be reviewing books on your own blog or professionally!


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