When fifteen year old heroine Callie Montgomery purchases a pair of red Prada pumps with sky-high heels she thinks her life will change from high school geek to A-list fashionista in one smooth step. She’s out to impress her savvy classmates while traveling on a school trip in London. Not only is Callie socially awkward, she is an admitted klutz. It only takes her three steps out of the Prada shop in her new shoes to trip and hit her head. When she wakes up, her surroundings have changed from city street, to country lane. She is taken in at Harksbury, a palatial country manor house where she is mistaken for an American cousin Rebecca Vaughn. Rebecca’s first visit to England is highly anticipated by Emily Thorton-Hawke, who warmly greets the cousin she has never met with open arms, and in full Regency era attire. Thinking that British people are very odd, Callie asks to use the telephone, but only gets blank looks. She plays along with impersonating Cousin Rebecca and gradually begins to realize that somehow she has traveled back in time to 1815. Her twenty-first century manners and memory of Regency history hamper her ruse, especially with the arrogant but dishy Lord Alexander Thorton-Hawke, Duke of Harksbury. He thinks she is outspoken and ill-mannered; she thinks if he wasn’t such a complete jerk, he’d be a great catch.
A high-concept time travel fantasy, Mandy Hubbard’s debut novel Prada & Prejudice reminds us how far we have evolved socially pitting twenty-first century personal freedoms against early nineteenth-century social stricture. Hubbard’s first person writing style is direct and engaging. Her heroine Callie/Rebecca is endearingly angst ridden and insecure, struggling to find herself in a teenage world flooded with designer clothes and confusing priorities. She cleverly contrasts her heroine’s modern sensibilities against the double standard for women in Regency times. By Callie/Rebecca’s motivation to help Emily break her engagement to a man thirty years her senior she does not love, and influencing Alex, the Duke of Harksbury to change his views on out of wedlock children, arranged marriages, and of course being an arrogant aristocrat, she directly addresses issues like primogeniture and feminism without even knowing it. She is just being herself, outspoken and direct. In addition, being Rebecca changes Callie’s perspective as she gradually realizes that by traveling thousands of miles to England, or back two hundred years into the past, she can not escape who she is. Wherever you go there you are! Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, her red shoes are not her ticket to happiness. It was there all along, waiting to be discovered, in herself.
Light, bright, and sparkly, Prada & Prejudice has made a grand entrance into the emerging Young Adult fiction genre. It is not a Jane Austen sequel per se, but gently nods with reverence at Pride and Prejudice, presenting a hero and heroine whose relationship and characteristics readers will recognize from Austen’s famous literary couple Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. With Austen being the grandmother of chick-lit, we have seen this premise used many times before in modern novels; Bridget Jones’ Diary, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Twilight, and in the movies You’ve Got Mail and Lost in Austen to name a few. If Prada & Prejudice represents the next generation in Austen inspired fiction geared for young readers (and those young at heart) we are on very good footing indeed. Well done. I recommend it highly for those in need of a quick escape, and a hearty laugh.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Prada & Prejudice, by Mandy Hubbard
Razorbill (Penguin Group), New York (2009)
Trade paperback, (238) pages