Adding to the long list of “Pride and Prejudice” adaptations, Jenni James’ first installation of “The Jane Austin Diaries” decodes the classic story for a teenage audience.
Though the first few chapters reminisce more of “John Tucker Must Die” than Austen’s tale of first impressions, James illustrates the struggles of popularity, honing in on the temporality of high school fame.
Chloe, the strong-headed Elizabeth of the plot, recently moved to Farmington, N.M., after being scorned by the most popular boy in school. She takes to the bleachers to watch a basketball game at her new school, where she meets Taylor Darcy Anderson. Well aware of his charm and oozing popularity, Taylor sees an unimpressed Chloe in the crowd and calls her out to say the next basket is for her. From that moment Chloe refuses to join Taylor’s ever growing fan club.
Three years later, Chloe is beginning her senior year of high school. She continues as a feisty heroine, breaking the mold of boy crazy teenage girls. When she’s teased by Taylor, she moves on and stands her ground, unrelenting to his charm and shocking arrogance.
James makes several attempts to develop Taylor’s character beyond his self-importance with little success, as his egotism reaches far past first, second or even third impressions. With his contradicting traits — from being overly flirtatious, quickly shifting to conceited and then to genuinely invested in Chloe’s safety and happiness — it’s hard to cheer him on.
The twists and turns play out in this teenage romance where popularity, school dances and getting into college are all that matter. Chloe saves her younger sister from a scandal, mulls over who to ask to a girls choice dance and battles her feelings for Taylor. But James evenly shifts from one character to another, weaving in side plots like Chloe’s short-lived and forced acquaintance with Collin Farnsworth, and Taylor’s best friend’s unsure relationship with Chloe’s shy friend Alyssa.
James’ biggest triumph is the way she fluidly writes from chapter to chapter and from conversation to conversation, keeping her readers on the edge of their seats. But that fluidity comes to a standstill with awkward language and oftentimes too sophisticated language for a young audience.
"Pride and Popularity" is romantic, age-appropriate and morally clean, giving younger audiences reassurance that they don’t need to compromise to be cool. But the message rings as true in “Pride and Popularity” as it does in “Pride and Prejudice” — first impressions are too often wrong and second chances are always welcome.