There are tons of ways to flirt… and just as many ways to break hearts in the process. A casual smile or a wink can lead to long-awaited romance or lots of unwanted attention. Claire LaZebnik explores all this and more in The Trouble with Flirting, her contemporary young adult update on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
This story is all about Franny Pearson, a high school student from Phoenix looking to get some real world experience for her college admissions essay. When Franny lands a summer internship as a costume designer with her Aunt Amelia, she ventures from home to work for the prestigious Mansfield College High School Theater Program. Even though her days are filled with sewing and sequins – Franny is determined to make some friends among the theater kids this summer.
Franny quickly runs into an old classmate – Alex Braverman, the dreamboat she’s had a crush on since eighth grade. Could this be the summer Alex finally notices her? Not if Harry Cartwright has anything to do with it. It’s bad enough that Harry’s constantly flirting with every girl in camp, but it really gets annoying when he sets his sights on Franny. Of course, she only has eyes for Alex and would never fall for a notorious flirt like Harry. Or would she?
Though this novel is based on Mansfield Park, it follows the original pretty loosely. Other young adult Austen updates like Prom and Prejudice or Clueless are almost scene for scene reimaginings. This story may have similar characters and the same basic premise as the original – poor girl mixes with rich kids and falls in love – but it’s not afraid to take us to different places.
Franny, for one, isn’t much like Fanny Price. This, of course, will make some people very happy. This Franny is much less passive and morally upright than her predecessor. She’s also a lot more like a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Sure, she isn’t as spoiled, self-involved, and boy crazy as the girls around her, but she also doesn’t shy away from meeting new people or ring her hands any time there’s rule-breaking going on. This Franny would love to be part of a lively production of Lover’s Vows.
Other characters start with Austen as their jumping off point and then move from there. Alex and Harry stay pretty true to their counterparts (Edmund Bertram and Henry Crawford), but keep surprising us until the end. Naturally, Alex has his own Mary Crawford-esque temptress in the beautiful and talented Isabella. Fellow campers, Marie and Julia compete tirelessly for Harry’s attention with not-so-great results. Even Franny’s Aunt Amelia has a bit of Mrs. Norris in her.
It’s to the story’s credit that these characters always feel fresh and surprising. Though this is essentially a retelling, it doesn’t feel like it. By making new and interesting choices for her characters, the author keeps the spirit of the original, while still helping us stay invested and interested in what’s going to happen next.
In the end, this update asks a very interesting question – who really deserves to be with Franny? Is it the long-time crush and all-around-nice-guy who’s spent the whole book courting someone else? Or is it the self-absorbed flirt who’s willing to change his ways for the right girl? In the original, Mary Crawford asserts that if Fanny had only accepted her brother Henry “she would have fixed him.” The Trouble with Flirting makes us wonder if Mary wasn’t right after all.
I picked up the book one night just to start the first few chapters and just couldn’t put it down. I happen to love young adult fiction, but this one was especially good. The author nails the tone and dialogue. The flow of the story was perfect and, most important, believable. I could actually see high schoolers having these conversations, relationships, and dating dilemmas. This would be a great choice for any teenager who you want to introduce to Austen, or, really, anyone who can appreciate a fun and well-written high school romance.
4.5 out of 5 Stars
The Trouble with Flirting A Novel, by Claire LaZebnik
Harper Teen (2013)
Trade paperback (336) pages
Cover image courtesy Harper Teen © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com