If you’ve read the blog before, you know I love Jane Austen. I reread all of her books during the first months of the COVID19 pandemic as a way to cope. One of my favorite Austen novels is Pride and Prejudice.
I also love young adult fiction, so I was so pleased to find a YA novel based on Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day with a black Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or, rather, Zuri Benitez and Darius Darcy!
Pride by Ibi Zoboi is a clever novel that updates a classic battle-of-the-sexes romance and turns it into something so much more for young readers still carving out their identities.
Zoboi even keeps the famous first phrase of Pride and Prejudice and surprises Austen fans with a new twist. Instead of making the novel about catching a rich husband (the main characters are only 17!), the novel becomes about identity, home, and community.
“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich white people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love.”Zoboi 1
Just as Elizabeth takes ironic pride in her community at Longborn, Zuri is proud of her neighborhood centered around Bushwick and Jefferson avenues in Brooklyn.
“I don’t appreciate anyone throwing shade at my neighborhood, especially from people who say words like ‘totally’ and ‘dude.’”Zoboi 9
With the gentrification of the neighborhood comes not only erasure but the wealthy Darcy family across the street.
“My neighborhood is made of love, but it’s money and building and food and jobs that keep it alive — and even I have to admit that the new people moving in, with their extra money and dreams, can sometimes make things better. We’ll have to figure out a way to make both sides of Bushwick work.”Zoboi 33
“My life. Our lives. Our family gets along with every single person on this block, which makes walking home when it’s dark real safe; which makes walking to the bodega in a night scarf and pajama pants not a big deal. The Darcys moving in changes all that.”Zoboi 46
Although black, like the Benitez family, the Darcys certainly appear to have more privilege than the five girls across the street. Zuri and her sisters — Janae (Jane Bennett), Marisol (Mary Bennett), Kayla (Kitty Bennett), and Layla (Lydia Bennett) — attend public schools, show up in their community, and watch their parents work hard for what they have.
“If Janae is the sticky sweetness keeping us sisters together, then I’m the hard candy shell, the protector. If anyone wants to get to the Benitez sisters, they’ll have to crack open my heart first.”Zoboi 43
Darius Darcy and his brother, Ainsley, attend private schools and have parents with every luxury available to them. Their sister even attends a boarding school in D.C.
Zuri calls “phony,” but her older sister, Janae, falls for Ainsley, much to her sister’s chagrin. Zuri remains less than thrilled with the whole family — especially Darius — in part because she feels he insulted her from the very beginning.
“Those Darcys can have all the nice things money can buy, but they don’t have decency or compassion.”Zoboi 133
Zuri has eyes for Warren, anyway. Warren is the neighborhood bad boy, but all the more alluring as a result. What Zuri does not know is Warren’s past with Darius. Her initial loyalties lie with Warren, one of her own. But soon, as their past unfolds before her eyes, Zuri starts to think that maybe it’s Darius who better aligns with her values than Warren.
“I hated him. I hated everything about him. But this, this isn’t hate.”Zoboi 189
Regardless, Zuri does not want boys to distract her from her ultimate goal of attending Howard University and pursuing her poetry. She’s a talented writer and has dreams of sharing her voice with the world.
“It’s all poetry. So I pull those words together and try to make sense of it all: my hood, my Brooklyn, my life, my world, and me in it.”Zoboi 2
The problem is, she only knows a very tiny corner of the world. Even though she loves her neighborhood dearly, she begins to realize the large world beyond her regular train stops.
She believes that attending Howard will help her find a balance between a love of home and curiosity about the world.
“I have always thought of Bushwick as home, but in that moment, I realize that home is where the people I love are, wherever that is.”Zoboi 270
Surprisingly, Darius becomes her primary guide and aid in this endeavor and becomes one of her biggest supporters.
But, we knew that was coming, didn’t we?
Even so, Pride is a clever, delightful read, even for the biggest of Austen fans. Zoboi stays true to the beloved characters and tensions in Austen’s classic but finds plenty of room for new elements that speak to modern readers.