It took a lot of effort not to read the Goodreads comments on this one. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I knew I would get mad after I read the first one and it legit said “this is nothing like Pride and Prejudice, but maybe I’m wrong because I haven’t read it in a while.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are major deviations from Pride and Prejudice, but how could there not be. The OG is set in 1797, this is set in modern day Brooklyn (Bushwick, specifically). The OG is about decently rich (aka they own land and make money from others, but poor compared to the really rich) British family and their neighborhood and this is about poor Haitin-Dominican family and their neighborhood. OF COURSE THERE ARE GOING TO BE DIFFERENCES.
Let’s start with the “bad”, because overall this book was great! The only thing that gave me trouble at first was the over description in the first couple of chapters. I’m not sure if Zoboi wanted to make 100% sure that we knew this was not your bland white update of Pride and Prejudice. The descriptions and adjectives were too heavy.
Instead of naming a few choice food items whenever she talked about food, she listed all of the foods. (I really liked that I had to look up a few and some I will be seeking out to try!) Instead of being vaguely descriptive like Austen was for her characters, Zoboi was incredibly descriptive. This worked better for the character descriptions than it did for the food and place descriptions.
Maybe it’s her style, but the fact that the heaviness and over description lessened as we moved through the book makes me think she really wanted to set the place and experience of her characters very specifically. As I said, it wasn’t a bad thing, but it kept me out of the story for longer than I would’ve liked.
Now, on to what I really liked about the book!
Zoboi did a wonderful job of reiterating just how young Austen’s characters were. The Bennet sisters ranged from 16-22 and the Benitez sisters range from 13-19. She really highlighted how much things have changed, for the most part, for young women in society. There’s not as much societal pressure to marry and have kids at such a young age, but there is just as much pressure to be successful, have someone you’re at least eyeing for the future, and still take care of your family.
She not only embodied Austen’s writings of the rich and the truly wealthy. This quote VERY early in the novel brought it home for me.
“And as I watch them, I realize there’s a difference between expensive-looking clothes and actually being expensive.” (4)
Zuri, the main character, is just as insightful, caring, and stubborn as Austen’s Lizzy Bennet. Her observations not only of the new Darcy neighbors, but of the world around her are incredibly poignant and accurate. I nearly died when she threw some (rightful) shade at gentrification, but in particular what I read as gay gentrification and the problems that it brings in concerning new normalization:
“But Robert and Kyle threatened to call the fire department because it was a waste of water and taxpayer money, they said.” (92)
That may not have been Zoboi’s intention, but it’s how I read it and I thought it was perfectly included without comment. I read it as Zuri basically going, yeah they’re horrible because they’re coming in raising rent prices, changing the face, color, and feel of the neighborhood, and they happen to be two men. They could be each others husband or they could each have wives, but I read it as the first and that Zuri had no comment on the matter because the youth are our future and they’re a hell of a lot more accepting and open that most adults are.
Zuri’s further observations (and poetical musings) on access to basic resources like food, housing, and medical are, and the continued desolation of communities by development are particularly timely given what is happening in major cities across the U.S. and world. I was worried this might get tedious, but the way it Zoboi wrote it kept it fresh and engaging. Coaching it in the guise of Zuri’s entrance essay for college was brilliant.
I found the Janae and Ainsley story line to be lackluster and nowhere near as engaging as Austen’s Jane and Bingley. She could’ve dropped it and spent more time building up Zuri and Darius’ relationship. Same thing with some of the other minor characters, but thankfully all of the side stories were stronger than others I’ve read.
Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling. I appreciated that Zoboi chose NOT to translate the Spanish/Spanglish because it added more nuance to the story. There were pieces that I struggled with and beautiful moments that made the struggles worth it.
Opening Line: “IT’S A TRUTH universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love.”
Closing Line: “I wrap my arms around his shoulders, pull him in, and give Darius a deep, long kiss for what feels like forever.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
“The Haitian-Dominican Benitez sisters already get enough attention on the street and at school as it is.” (2)
“Papi reads as if the world is running out of books. Sometimes he’s more interested in stories and history than people.” (7)
“‘Career before family? Como una gringa?’ ‘No, Madrina,’ I say. ‘Not like a white girl! Like . . . a woman! Any woman.'” (19)
“Late June in Brooklyn is like the very beginning of a party—when the music is really good, but you know that it’s about to get way better, so you just do a little two-step before the real turn-up starts.” (24)
“Every book is a different hood, a different country, a different world. Reading is how I visit places and people and ideas. And when something rings true or if I still have a question, I outline it with a bright yellow highlighter so that it’s lit up in my mind, like a lightbulb or a torch leading the way to somewhere new.” (28)
“My neighborhood is made of love, but it’s money and buildings and food and jobs that keep it alive—and even I have to admit that the new people moving in, with their extra money and dreams, can sometimes make things better. We’ll have to figure out a way to make both sides of Bushwick work.” (33)
“Think of the golden sun, she said. It makes everything on earth fall in love—how the ocean kisses land, how land nestles trees, how swaying trees always whisper sweet nothings into our ears.” (58)
“This isn’t the love at first sight Madrina likes to talk about, but it’s a you-look-so-damn-good-that-my-eyes-are-eating-your-face thing we’ve got going.” (69)
“As my heart races, I think that maybe I read the Darcys wrong. Maybe the Darcy mom has a bad case of resting bitch face. Maybe they were just in an argument and they went to that restaurant to patch things up. But then again, first impressions are everything. Madrina says to trust my gut. My gut told me that the Darcys were all conceited, and their sons thought that they were better than us. But I kissed one of them. And he apologized to me. Sort of.” (214)
“Sometimes love is not enough to keep a community together. There needs to be something more tangible, like fair housing, opportunities, and access to resources. Lifeboats and lifelines are not supposed to just be a way for us to get out. They should be ways to let us stay in and survive. And thrive.” (273)
“Ah, mija! There you go! Rivers flow. A body of water that remains stagnant is just a cesspool, mi amor! It’s time to move, flow, grow. That is the nature of rivers. That is the nature of love!” (281)