Book review: ‘Enthusiasm’ by Polly Shulman

enthusiasmJulie Lefkowitz knows where her allegience lies — and it’s all with Ashleigh Rossi, her childhood best friend and serious Enthusiast. Ashleigh’s whims change without warning and encompass her entire being, dragging Julie along as she suddenly develops an interest in insects, candy-making or King Arthur — and then some.

Usually glad to go along with Ash’s infectious, excited schemes, her latest is causing Julie to feel anxious — Ashleigh is now obsessed with Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice, Julie’s very own favorite book. And from the moment Ash appears at Julie’s wearing a long gown, speaking in Regency language and begging her to crash a “ball” at neighboring all-boys school Forefield Academy, Julie knows this is no ordinary Enthusiasm.

And it’s not, of course. At the dance they meet Ned Downing and Charles Grandison Parr, two “very suitable” young men who could very clearly resemble their own Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, respectively. But which gentleman will pair off with which young lady? Or are they totally immune to the girls’ charms?

I can’t believe I only discovered this book by browsing through a bargain bookshelf. It was absolutely, totally fun and adorable! That’s really the best way I can describe it. Was the romance a wee bit predictable? Yes. Were there times you wanted to punch Julie, our narrator, in the arm for being so obtuse? Definitely. Was it obvious that, in the tradition of Jane Austen, we would get our very own happy ending? Sure. But let me tell you, it didn’t really hurt this infectious story at all.

What really anchored the whole novel for me was the knowledge that we all have an Ashleigh — or that we’ve all been an Ashleigh. My friends and family have long teased me that I jump from one “obsession” to another, and I absolutely saw myself in Shulman’s whimsical character. Ashleigh’s friendship with Julie was so strong, as was their devotion to each other — and it was so refreshing to see a pair of friends who don’t turn on each other the moment a pimply teenage boy shows them an ounce of attention. Seriously, Ashleigh and Julie were Ashleigh-and-Julie, and I loved that.

The family dynamics here were really strong, too. Goodness knows I love to see a functioning, well-drawn and relatable family! While Julie’s parents are divorced and she divides her time between her mother’s home with an antiques store in front and her father’s place with her new stepmother Amy, the “Irresistable Accountant,” the book doesn’t fall into the mire of “where do I belong, what did I do wrong” that’s so completely played out. Both homes welcomed her, though Julie did occasionally struggle with being kind to Amy. Though I couldn’t exactly blame her . . . I’m sure I would have had a hard time always being nice to Amy, too.

Jane Austen fans will delight in seeing a young woman so engrossed with one of their own favorite novels, as will the many women who have looked for their own Mr. Darcy. Ashleigh’s Enthusiasm is totally contagious, and at just 208 pages, you can whip right through this one in a sitting or two. And I’m so glad I did!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0142409359 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website