This is the weirdest month: it started during Winter Break. Then we went back to school...for one day. Then we were snowed out for two days. Then two days on, then a weekend. This week we actually managed a full five-day week...and today we have off in honor of MLK Day. So it will be another short week.
Anyway, I figure I can count today as my Sunday, and tell you all about the book I finished yesterday. This one isn't YA, but I think will appeal to a lot of the readers of this blog:
Longbourn by Jo Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book close on the heels of re-reading and teaching Pride and Prejudice, expecting that I would need to remember details, but really this is a standalone story. Sure, it gives another perspective on the Bennets (especially the parents) but mostly, this is the story of the servants at Longbourn, the ones who keep the house running and let Jane and Lizzy focus on looking pretty at balls.
I don't want to say too much, because I think one of the strengths of Longbourn is its plot, and the way in which everything ultimately falls into place. The characters held my attention and I would love to read more about all of them, especially Sarah: she came to Longbourn as a child, after the rest of her family died of illness. As a result, she has a vague sense of a different life, and while I wouldn't say any of the servants love their jobs, Sarah's past makes her particularly dissatisfied with her situation.
As a Downton Abbey fan (but a critical one), I also appreciated the lack of sugar-coating. It's easy to romanticize service (Downton is notable for doing that) and this book really exists to do the opposite. The servants in Pride and Prejudice are nearly invisible, and so is the work they do: bringing slop buckets to the pigs, hauling water and lighting stoves, and washing up after every trace of any and all bodily fluids (plus all that mud Lizzie is always tromping through.) This felt different than a lot of other depictions of service that I've seen and I appreciated that.
Ultimately, you don't have to be a Pride and Prejudice fan to read and enjoy Longbourn. (Also, I feel compelled to note, you may not enjoy this just because you liked P&P: in particular, there is some strong language and the unsavory elements are not nearly as tidily referenced as in P&P. Wickham, in particular, while not surprising to fans of the original, is even grosser than I imagined, and a few scenes that take place in a war zone are really tough. It all works with the story, and it didn't bother me more than it was meant to, but it's there nonetheless. So, if there is an easily shocked P&P fan in your life, maybe go another way at their birthday.) This is a satisfying story with original characters. It's a family story, a coming of age, a romance, and in parts an adventure. It's a novel written for adults, but with elements that would appeal to many readers of YA (especially older teens and adults.)
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