Ellie Barnett is 15 years old the first time she hears it: the clipped, unmistakable and disapproving voice of Jane Austen, famous authoress and, apparently, Ellie’s new mentor. Deep within her subconscious, Jane comes to be a sort of friend and guardian angel, helping Ellie navigate the turbulent years of her adolescence — particularly where Sam Blaine, the irresistably cute high school rebel, is concerned.
As the years go by and Ellie’s fragile heart is bruised time and again in her pursuit of true love, the constancy of Jane’s advice allows Ellie to learn from her mistakes and see each man for who he truly is. There are the Wickhams, like Sam, and the Bingleys, like classmate Jason. But where’s the one man Ellie wants to find more than anyone — her own Darcy? With Jane’s assistance, our heroine comes to find he may be in a very unlikely place indeed.
There’s much to like about Marilyn Brant’s According To Jane, a fresh and fun contemporary story with plenty of allusions to one of my favorite British authors. The idea of Jane as a sort of spirit guide for a modern woman was compelling enough for me to rush out and buy this one myself, and I definitely enjoyed reading the novel on long recent plane rides. More than anything, Brant’s novel felt realistic. Ellie, like many women in their mid-twenties and -thirties, is craving that One True Love — and relies upon her friends and family to help her discover him. Jane’s irreverent voice comes through in the book, guiding Ellie according to her personal morals. While some of her views are antiquated, particularly where “courtship” are concerned, most of Jane’s advice still rings true in the modern world!
I loved Ellie’s relationship with her older sister Diana, a one-time rebellious teen who taunted Ellie but comes to appreciate her little sister more and more as they reach adulthood. Their dynamic felt very honest! The book’s dialogue was believable, too — not stilted and awkward, like someone writing a parody of a “conversation.” The book did feature plenty of intimate scenes that really caught me off guard, to be honest — but not necessarily in a bad way. Those, too, felt realistic . . . and cringe-worthy. Ellie’s coming-of-age story — which, at its heart, is what According To Jane is — will probably ring true for many women. Her misadventures in dating definitely sounded familiar . . . unfortunately!
My only gripe with the novel was the “explanation” that accompanied Jane’s arrival in Ellie’s life. In some ways, I may have honestly preferred that no particular reason be given at all! It just felt random and at odds with my own perception of Jane, I guess, but that’s a personal feeling. Others don’t seem to have been as bothered by that as I am! And while I saw the ending coming about four hundred miles away, that didn’t keep me from enjoying it immensely when we got there.
A fun, light-hearted coming-of-age novel lovers of Jane Austen will appreciate — and women’s fiction readers will enjoy. Now, if only I had my own Jane to help me spot all the Wickhams in the world . . .
4 out of 5!