I read a lot of young adult fiction and I notice that there’s often a tendency to feature a female main character who’s smart, sassy, and in control. Of course, these self-confident heroines are important and lots of real-life girls can relate to them. But, some girls are a little less sure of themselves. A little more naïve and a little too trusting. In fact, that’s something that many women struggle with long after they leave high school. No one knew this better than Jane Austen. Her heroines fit into a huge range of personalities and life experiences. In When I’m With You, Cecilia Gray gives us an update on one of Jane’s most underutilized, yet relatable teenage characters, Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey
Kat Morley just knows that one day she’s gonna be a famous actress. She’s been the lead in five different productions at her high school, the Jane Austen Academy, so it can’t be long until her name is up in lights. When Kat’s classmate (aspiring actor, Josh Wickham) asks her to travel with him to the set of a movie he’s starring in over Christmas break, it’s practically her dream come true! Things get even better once Kat arrives and starts rubbing elbows with the stars. Izzy Engel is not only beautiful and famous but she’s also decided to befriend Kat! And Henry Trenton (son of Hollywood legend, Tom Trenton) has invited her out for hot cocoa! Swoon!
But, it isn’t long before Kat starts to see the dark side of being famous. Constantly being stalked by the paparazzi. Lack of privacy. Having to act and dress a certain way to maintain your image. When Kat is invited to stay at Henry’s home in Los Angeles, she also uncovers some secrets about his famous dad and starts to have some doubts about her new celebrity friends. Maybe being a star really isn’t as wonderful as Kat always imagined?
When I’m With You is the third in Cecilia Gray’s Jane Austen Academy series. Each of Austen’s six main heroines gets her own story and a transplant to a modern-day boarding school in California. The girls – Lizzie, Ellie, Kat, Fanny, Emma, and Anne – befriend each other over the course of the six books and, of course, get involved with lots of cute boys. I think Jane would be amused.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with any of the other Jane Austen Academy books, reading this one out of order was no problem. I chose to start with this title because it’s based on one of my favorite novels – Northanger Abbey. You don’t see too many modern updates of it, probably because it’s one of Austen’s lesser-read and lesser-known works. That’s actually a shame. I always saw Northanger as particularly relevant to modern folks. Sure, the original book is poking fun at 18th-century gothic novels, but the idea of satirizing pop culture isn’t outdated at all. Here, the author riffs on our modern obsession with fame, Hollywood, and celebrity gossip. The parallels to Austen’s work and the critiques of the world we live in are spot on. And very funny.
Catherine Morland always seemed to be the perfect character to star in a modern young adult novel, too. Here you have a teenage girl away from home and forced to rely on her (still developing) wits to navigate the world around her. She’s naïve, imaginative, and a little too trusting at times. Kat Morley is a great modern parallel to Catherine. Kat wants to be a famous actress one day, but she really has no idea what being a celebrity is all about. She’s a little too awed by fame and filled with enough self-doubt to keep herself from realizing people’s true intentions and feelings. Whether it’s a friend she should be avoiding or a romance she should be pursuing, Kat just doesn’t quite know what to do.
This might make Kat sound a bit dull and indecisive, but she was actually a really fun character to spend an afternoon with. She’s driven and spunky, but filled with a lot of uncertainty in herself that I found very true to life and relatable. Her journey from dreams of stardom to a more realistic vision for her future was very well done, natural, and satisfying. Her friendship with the subtly devious Izzy was perfect and even takes an unexpected turn in the end. And her romance with the quirky and light-hearted Henry Trenton was fun and engaging without taking center stage. Sure, Kat might fall in love, but that never takes away from her growth and development in the story.
The book is very short and, at less than 150 pages, I was able to get through it in a few hours one afternoon. That means that the author cuts away a lot of side plots from the original to focus on Kat’s core journey. There’s no John Thorpe to pursue her. No Eleanor Tilney to befriend her. No James Morland to fall in love with Izzy and no Captain Tilney to lure her away. So, it’s true that the book isn’t as meticulously plotted as the original, and normally, I would miss these little bits and pieces. But, the main story is really juicy and engaging and still flows well. Even as the author trimmed, she was still able to dive deep and do justice to what was left.
Overall, When I’m With You is a short, fun, well-written update on a much neglected, but much-loved story. What more could you ask for? I liked the book so much, that I plan on checking out the rest of the series. Amazon is also featuring the first book in the Jane Austen Academy series, Fall for You, (based on Pride and Prejudice) for free. Why not download a copy? I already did and am looking forward to reading more adventures featuring the young ladies of the Jane Austen Academy.
5 out of 5 Stars
When I’m With You (The Jane Austen Academy Series), by Cecilia Gray
Gray Life, LLC (2013)
Digital eBook (147) pages
Cover image courtesy Gray Life, LLC © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com