Several months ago I had the opportunity to read Persuaded by Jenni James, a modern YA (young adult) adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I was really impressed with James’ ability to keep the depth of Austen’s works when translating them into the modern world and make them appealing to the YA crowd. When offered the chance to review her adaptation of Emma, I jumped and said yes! I’ve always found that Emma Woodhouse is a difficult character to relate to. (At least to me) The film Clueless did an excellent job showcasing her naivety while also reflecting that deep down inside she was a good person with good intentions. I was interested in seeing if James could also reflect this naïve nature while still making Emma appealing to teens.
Emmalee Bradford, the modern-day equivalent to Emma, lives a very satisfying life. She believes that she is an expert matchmaker and never misses an opportunity to set her friends up on dates. She takes special interest in Hannah, whom she decides to devote all her energy to in order to make her popular. What she doesn’t realize, however, is all this energy expended on others leaves her alone and partner-less. Will she be able to find a match for herself despite being so adept at finding matches for others?
As I said before, Jane Austen’s Emma is a difficult character to relate to. Emmalee, on the other hand, is surprisingly refreshing. This may be because of her age. We’ve all had those awkward teen years dealing with growing up, moving on, difficult parents, friendship/relationship woes, and all the other difficulties being a teen brings. On the surface, Emmalee seems like a spoiled rich kid, but when you get in her head, she genuinely thinks that what she does and says is completely unselfish. By the end of the novel, we see her begin to look at her actions from a different perspective and take responsibility for them. This highlights an emotional growth that was missing in Emmalee in the beginning and is now beginning to transform her into a much more mature person. James weaves this into the plot perfectly, much like Austen made Emma transform from a slightly superficial matchmaker to a woman who has finally found true fulfillment in her own life. It is this transformation that makes Emmalee such a great read (and of course Emma too by extension!)
This book is filled with all the things that teen girls love: trips to the mall, cute boys, crushes, first kisses, Edward Cullen v. Jacob Black of Twilight discussions, puppies, fashion, texting, etc. James does an exquisite job in making her works appeal to her audience. Parents too will love these books for their clean nature, fun-loving prose, and moral lessons. If you know a young adult who has yet to give Austen’s classics a try, I recommend you have them read The Jane Austen Diaries series by Jenni James as encouragement.
4 out of 5 Stars
Emmalee: The Jane Austen Diaries #4, by Jenni James
Walnut Springs Press (2012)
Trade paperback (230) pages
Cover image courtesy of Walnut Springs Press © 2012; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose.com