I was Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Cora Harrison
Release Date: 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man? But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do? In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family–especially the beloved Jane.
The Short of It: If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll love this book as it holds a lot of the same charm and style. Admittedly, it does start a little slow, but once it gets going it’s very hard to put down.
Plot: While Harrison states that I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is largely a work of fiction, she captured the time period nicely. Although, I will admit I do not know much about Austen or her family, it was easy to believe that this was their way of life. Just from reading Austen books, the atmosphere that Harrison created was very much the same. I will warn, though, there are some parts that drag a bit; but I think that’s to be expected as we’re following a girl in the 1870s. She was living in a time where women were held to strict rules and there was little room for adventure or excitement without causing a scandal. And while there may be moments of dullness, overall, I enjoyed Jenny’s adventures as she found love.
Characters: There’s not much one can say that is unkind about Jenny. Yes, she’s not the break out of the mold-heroine, but she is kind and good hearted. And while she wasn’t one to break the rules normally, she was willing to put her life in danger to save Jane when she was sick. However, I do wish Jenny were a bit less shy. I hated how she was unable to stand up for herself against her sister-in-law or state how she felt about Thomas. It did seem as if she were coming out of her shell a bit towards the end and I have high hopes that with Thomas as a guide she’ll be able to speak her mind even more.
Romance: Have you every had one of those moments where you’re happy with the romance, but then at the same time you’re not? This would be one of those instances for me. First of all, I really hate girls who fall for any man who smiles charmingly at her. I know this is part of the times where girls cared less about love than finding a wealthy match, but it makes the proclamations of love seem worthless (and of course they probably really are). And I know Jenny was really not in love with any of them, except Thomas, but her school girl crushes and how they were easily dismissed was a bit tiresome. And I know this was perfectly valid for this time period, even Austen’s own heroines do it at times, but for some reason it has always driven me crazy.
So now that I’ve rambled about that, let’s talk about Jenny and Thomas’ romance. I had an instant liking to the coupling. I knew from the instant that they met that he was who she would end up with. Out of all the guys Jenny crushed out, Thomas was certainly the best. I only wish Thomas had been around a bit more. I know this is sort of based off real facts and that their romance was very fast (meet and engaged within a month), but I would have liked to know him a bit more. I would have enjoyed seeing their love truly bloom, but that may just be talking from a modern day’s perspective. After all, romance in the 1870s is very different than the ones in 2010!
Writing: I enjoyed that journal style that Harrison took on. She managed to make it feel personable to Jenny, but make the secondary characters come alive. I truly felt that, while I was seeing them through Jenny’s eyes, I truly knew most of the Austen family members. The ones that interacted with Jenny came alive on the page even in diary format.
The only thing that threw me off a little is when Harrison switched it to real time. This was usually during key events, like when Thomas made an appearance. At first, I didn’t like it, but once I realized what Harrison was doing it grew on me. Plus, it was a nice change of pace to step out to see an event unfolding rather than reading a retelling. It allowed for true dialogue and allowed for feelings and perspectives that may have been lost in the journal format. And, honestly, it did add a certain magic being there as it happened.
Librarian-Mode: I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, because I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is quite different than most books I’ve read. Of course, anyone who loves Austen’s work will enjoy this, too, but there aren’t an abundance of those when it comes to teenagers. However, I think most historical readers would enjoy this one as well. I would think that those who liked the Luxe Series or Faithful would like this one as well.
So, now it’s your turn…have you read I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.