Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: Sass & Serendipity

Jennifer Ziegler
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
In a modern retelling of the classic Jane Austen novel Sense & Sensibility, Daphne and Gabby Rivera  are completely opposite sisters dealing with the financial and emotional struggles that come after their parents' divorce. While Gabby, the headstrong, man-hating, angry-but-responsible older sister puts all she has into helping her mother and scoring a scholarship to pay for college, Daphne is flighty, insanely cheerful, and self-absorbed as she always imagines that her perfect guy is right around the corner. The current object of her affections is Luke, the new boy at school who reads Jane Eyre and saves her from tumbling down a flight of stairs. For Gabby, her younger sister's obsession with boys and "true love" is exhausting at best and madly infuriating at worst. After their parents' divorce, Gabby took her mom's side wholeheartedly and decided that all men are scum and the only person you can really depend on is yourself. Meanwhile, Daphne blames her mother for the divorce and doesn't understand why her sister is so against falling in love -- something Daphne apparently tends to do a lot.

It's been years since I've read Sense & Sensibility, but even so I could tell that this novel followed the basic premise and plot. Gabby and Daphne have the most obvious characteristics of the Dashwood sisters -- namely that one is boring and distrustful while the other is flighty and romantic -- and at least in the beginning these traits overtake the characters. At first it was hard to stomach Gabby, a girl whose one friendship (with a boy called Mule) mostly consists of her complaining about... well, everything. Her studies, the prom-obsessed teens around them, and most of all her irresponsible little sister. As is pointed out rather early in the story, Gabby has a mean streak a mile wide. Typically I have a difficult time empathizing with such a mean character, but with Gabby we eventually discover that her reasons for being so mean and distrustful are actually pretty legit. Not only is her family about to lose their home, but she's relied on to help a good deal with finances as well as putting pressure on herself to get a full scholarship. This, added to the "secret" of Gabby's past made for a character that, while I didn't always like her, I found myself able to understand a bit more. And Daphne, though selfish and flighty, was easier for me to understand. She believes in classic-romance-novel love stories and is just waiting to live out her own. She's a girl with a lot of emotions and though her willingness to be her emotional self means often having a selfish attitude, it also means that she often feels on the outskirts of her sex-obsessed, true-love-shunning peers, even those she considers her best friends. And the thing is, though Daphne's selfishness was huge compared to her sister, she wasn't really that selfish. Aside from constantly promising to try and get a job and then bailing at the chance to hang out with Luke, most of her selfishness just equated to wanting to have a "typical" teenage life. Spending her money on a dress for prom instead of helping to pay the rent, having a crush on a boy even though her sister thought she was being ridiculous and stupid. Like her sister, Daphne was dealing with her own issues -- the disconnect she felt between how she wanted life and love to be and how they actually were, as well as not understanding why her parents got a divorce or why she couldn't see her father more often.

As in the original Sense & Sensibility, much of the plot of Sass & Serendipity is focused on the boys in the Rivera sisters' lives, with the financial troubles and family drama as more of a subplot or even plot device. This isn't to say that either of those things are bad, because I actually think that the way this story comes together works very well. The family history isn't delved into too much, but it's still obvious how their parents' divorce has affected the sisters very differently and deeply. While Daphne runs off in pursuit of love in the form of Luke, who she thinks to be perfect, Gabby runs from the very idea of romance. She changes the subject when her best guy friend repeatedly brings up the subject of Prom and accuses a former classmate of being sexist and thinking her and her family weak when he offers to help them move some boxes. There were many moments when I wanted to yell at both of the sisters as they continued to make iffy decisions in their love lives, but the way the book builds and the way each character (even secondary ones) is written makes it easy to understand why each of the girls acts the way she does, even when it seems to be ridiculous. Part of the reason the book can get away with having some fairly silly personality traits and decisions for these characters is because there really is a character arc here. Both sisters change and grow (for the better!) throughout the course of the novel, and these changes never feel forced or contrived.

Though the sisters' personalities were extreme, they were justified and strongly-felt. However, I can't say the same about the setting. This book is set in a small Texas town that both girls often describe as redneck, but it didn't feel like a small town. There was some Texas-style dialogue ("y'all" comes to mind), but the atmosphere of the novel did not feel as if it took place in a specific small town setting. Instead, I got the feeling that this story and these characters could have just as easily lived in the suburbs or a  sprawling city. They could have been anywhere and for me, a reader who loves strong settings, I kind of wished the book had taken place just anywhere, in some nondescript place. I would have liked for the plot and characters to take over completely, without having the nagging feeling about the setting being not quite right. But I do realize I'm a bit more particular about settings than most are and overall this was a very cute, successful modern retelling of the classic that I love.

Sass & Serendipity comes out July 12th.

No comments:

Post a Comment