Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Sass and Serendipity

The only thing most girls of Barton, Texas can talk about is the upcoming prom. Who's going with whom, what dress they bought, and where they'll be going for dinner beforehand--those are the hot topics at school.

Gabby Rivera couldn't care less about any of it. Prom, and everything it represents (in a word: boys), are completely beneath her. She decided when her parents divorced that love wasn't real, and believing some fairy tale prince will sweep her off her feet only keeps her from reality.

Her sister Daphne is less practical. In fact, Daphne isn't practical at all. She loves the idea of love, and she runs into a handsome stranger--literally--she decides he must be her Prince Charming. After all, they both love Jane Eyre!

That's the opening set-up for Sass and Serendipity, a new YA twist on Sense and Sensibility by Jennifer Ziegler. Ziegler takes the theme of sisters from Austen's novel and reworks it into a modern setting. The relationships between the two sisters was real and honest. I loved reading about them, both separately and together. There was a realness to them that drew me in.

Sass and Serendipity was often laugh out loud funny. One of my favorite parts was when Daphne was day dreaming about her future relationship with Luke (who is, of course, Willoughby). "Although they had years go to before their spring garden wedding with the string quartet and the mermaid ice sculpture, there was no harm in being prepared with a good dress design, right?"

I was that girl when I was in high school, and the memory of those secret dress designs cracked me up. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now...

Obviously, Sass and Serendipity was a well-written, funny, YA novel. There's another question however--is it a true Austenesque novel? This is a bit trickier, and I finally approached it from this angle: Would I know it was a retelling of Sense and Sensibility if the title didn't have the double S, or if I wasn't told so on the fly leaf?

I'm not sure I would. Part of my uncertainty comes from the character of Gabby. As much as Daphne strikes a chord as a Marianne, I didn't really feel Gabby was a faithful representation--or even modernization--of Elinor. Elinor's most basic character trait is a strong sense of propriety, a solid understanding of the rules of society. Her conflict with her sister comes when she attempts to check Marianne's less fettered spirits to follow those rules.

Gabby, however, is like Elinor only in her practicality. I could certainly imagine her insisting the family didn't have money for beef (or for the fancy dinner their mother splurges on in a celebration). She holds down a job at the local movie theater to help with the family finances, and she's constantly pestering her sister to apply for work herself.

However, that was really where the similarity ended. Where Elinor hides deep feelings behind a demure mask, events of the past made Gabby bitter. She is determined never to love (a thought that would never cross Elinor's mind, I am sure), and she absolutely rebuffs any boy who shows an interest in her.

That bitterness leads her to lash out at Daphne several times. While I could utterly sympathize with her, I did miss seeing some of the sisterly togetherness that is so present in Sense and Sensibility. Elinor only chastises Marianne out of a desire to see her happy, and one never doubts that the two sisters truly love each other. Even Marianne in her most willful moments does not resent Elinor in the way Daphne does Gabby.

In the end, I felt like Sense and Sensibility is about more than two very different sisters, and those other elements were missing in Sass and Serendipity. The family dynamic and the inclusion of Luke/Willoughby were really the only two things I found that tied the two stories together.

Despite that, I'm giving Sass and Serendipity 4 solid stars. It's an excellent YA novel, with enough hints of Austen to interest a reader looking for a Sense and Sensibility redux. However, if you're looking for a faithful adaptation of Austen, this might not be the novel for you.

This is the first selection I've fulfilled for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.

FTC disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author's publicist. That did not affect my review in any way.