This book is a retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, romantic fiction about the very opposite Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is governed by her head, and Marianne by her heart.
In Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, we meet Grace and Hallie Weston. Grace, 16, is a sensible and somewhat stoic realist, while Hallie, 18, is emotional and impulsive. As the story opens, their father has just died – intestate – of a heart attack, leaving them at the mercy of their young and greedy stepmother, Portia. About to be evicted, they find salvation in an offer of housing with their mother’s wealthy cousin, and so they leave San Francisco and head to Beverly Hills. There, Hallie has no interest in Brandon, the brooding and introspective neighbor, but instead starts up a relationship with glamorous Dakota, an aspiring rock star. Meanwhile, Grace struggles with her secret feelings for Theo, who just happens to be the brother of her evil stepmother.
Discussion: This retelling follows the original story arc pretty closely. It is updated of course, and adds a couple of twists, such as Hallie and Grace being half black because of a Nigerian mother. (So what’s up with the cover, you may ask? I wonder the same!) The good guy whom Hallie rejects at first, Brandon, is an Iraqi war vet, which also adds a contemporary element.
Setting the story in Hollywood allows the author an easy target to replicate Austen’s focus on the shallowness of the upper classes, and to provide a showcase for Hallie’s emotionalism (with her aspirations to act).
Evaluation: This is a fun take-off that will appeal to fans of this genre. It is perfectly suitable for tweens: like Austen, the author keeps things pretty chaste, although Grace suspects Hallie is sleeping with Dakota. A postscript tells how everyone ended up, which would make a perfect ending to a movie version, as the credits role by…
Published by Candlewick Press, 2013