I liked this way more than I expected to! I usually guess from an illustrated cover like this that I’m going to get a piece of fluffy, politically correct chick lit. While that’s exactly what it was, it had one (for me) major redeeming quality: it was a retelling of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” I knew this going in (otherwise I never would have bought it), but I think I expected it to be looser than it was. It was Emma with a very modern twist: instead of simply fixing people up, she’s a coder who literally writes a dating app for coding club in her high school. What really hooked me was the fact that all the characters had the same names as in the original, or very close to the same names in some cases. This meant that I had emotional associations for and attachments to all of the characters the second they were introduced.
This version of Emma is a nerd, not a beautiful young socialite who happens to not care to marry. Instead of marriage with children, her sister Izzy went off to college with John on the other side of the country. John’s younger brother George (Knightley) is Emma’s neighbor and family friend, but they aren’t really friends with each other so much as rivals in all of their classes. Now, they’re co-presidents of the coding club. He disapproves of her dating app idea for the state coding competition, but it catches on… and, like the original Emma’s disastrous matchmaking attempts, it has unintended consequences.
The character of Frank Churchill this time is called Sam as a nickname. Certain elements of his original dynamic with Emma and Jane don’t fit into modern times. Nobody in high school would really be engaged, secretly or otherwise, so the author had to go about it differently. Harriet Smith in this version is called Hannah (I guess Harriet is too old-fashioned) and rather than her low status deriving from her uncertain parentage, in this case she’s a freshman to Emma’s and George’s senior. One thing that kind of didn’t work for me was that in the Victorian era, there was no courtship at all: there was flirtation followed by engagement, or flirtation followed by heartbreak. This left opportunity for misunderstandings, such as when Harriet believed that Mr Knightley was in love with her and likely to marry her, when in fact he was just being kind on someone else’s behalf. Such misunderstandings could never occur today, so the author had to have characters actually date people they didn’t truly have feelings for. She explains this away as a sense of obligation in order to show faith in their app, but I can’t see any of them actually doing this–it would be too deliberately misleading and cruel, and the person getting “used” would be rightly outraged when they found out about it. Yet that never happens in the book.
While this version of Emma isn’t really all that likable, I guess the original wasn’t either… yet they are both identifiable, which is all that matters in a main character I suppose. I did love the dynamic between Emma and George as much as I did in the original. Once I got about 2/3 in, I didn’t want to put it down.
My rating: ****
Language: none that I can recall
Sexual content: alluded to but only vaguely, not present in the story
Political content: present, in an annoyingly overt box-checking kind of way. But, it’s a mainstream chick lit book, what did I expect.
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