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Enthusiasm

Review

Enthusiasm

Julie's best friend Ashleigh is an enthusiast who jumps from
one craze to the next, immersing herself and those around her into
her latest obsession. One summer it was reptiles, another year it
was King Arthur. Julie has always followed Ashleigh's crazes, but
when Ashleigh reads PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and is determined to model
their lives after the novels of Jane Austen, Julie isn't sure she
wants to encourage her best friend in her latest enthusiasm. Not
only does Ashleigh refuse to wear anything but long skirts and
ballet slippers, she insists they must find love interests by
crashing the fall formal dance at a nearby private boys
school.


Ashleigh's enthusiasm leads the two girls from one hilarious
adventure to another. Convincingly narrated by Julie, ENTHUSIASM
takes PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as only one of its literary themes. It is
modeled less after any specific Austen book or Shakespearean plot
than it is the classic themes of mixed identities, secret crushes,
and keen social observation.


The book is deliciously light without being trite, and (biggest
surprise of all) it actually had some decent poetry in it,
including one fabulous acrostic poem around which much of the
narrative centers. Touches of poetry appear throughout, including a
hilarious first conversation between Julie and her love interest,
modeled on the sonnet dialogue that accompanies first meetings in
Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET.


In many ways the book shares more parallels with Austen's SENSE AND
SENSIBILITY than it does PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Julie plays the
pragmatic Eleanor Dashwood to Ashleigh's more emotional Marianne.
Like Eleanor Dashwood, Julie hides her true feelings for fear of
hurting a friend. Her love interest is more like Mr. Ferris than
Mr. Darcy --- he's gentle and slightly awkward, and could never be
accused of acting like a snob. There is, however, an obnoxious Mr.
Collins-type suitor, which definitely is an appreciable
touch.


The only underdeveloped part of the story comes on Julie's 16th
birthday (December 17th, Ms. Austen's birthday as well), which is
overshadowed by her stepmother's grief upon miscarrying a baby
whose birthday would have been the same day. Counting the months,
Julie realizes that the baby was conceived long before her parents'
divorce and that her father had never intended to reconcile the way
he had promised Julie and her mother.


There is also a very awkward and strange moment in a neighbor's
greenhouse where she is found crying by a friend's appealing, older
brother. They end up kissing and are interrupted by her friend.
Neither situation is resolved, but in some ways they make the book
more appealing. Messy edges and unexplained situations add a touch
of realism to what is otherwise an idealistic romance. Both
incidents are a peek beyond the literary romantic haze to the adult
world in which courtly love plays no role, and bodies have
interests that hearts may not share.


But the harsh, gritty realism often portrayed in young adult novels
has very little to do with the many delights of ENTHUSIASM. This is
an elegantly written and entirely entertaining book with a fresh
and unjaded look at friendship and young love, as likely to appeal
to older Austen enthusiasts as it is to young readers experiencing
love for the first time.


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Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on October 18, 2011

Enthusiasm
by Polly Shulman

  • Publication Date: February 16, 2006
  • Genres: Romance
  • Hardcover: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399243895
  • ISBN-13: 9780399243899