Goodreads: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend
Series: Jane Austen #1
When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man?
But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do?
In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane.
I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is precisely the type of book one would probably expect it to be from the title, a light and fun YA read about a young girl who dabbles in intrigue and romance because she’s Jane Austen’s best friend (and Jane Austen even as a teenagers has a sharp wit and keen eyes). The book is just the thing for someone looking for some delightfully fluffy entertainment, with spunky female protagonists and some eighteenth century heartthrobs.
The official summary promises romance from a handsome naval captain, but I found that somewhat misleading. Jenny does run into a handsome gentleman with smoldering eyes early in the novel, but it takes him about halfway through the book to come back. In the meantime, Jenny occupies herself considering other desirable men and getting into small adventures with Jane. The Austen family participate in lots of old-timey entertainment, such as putting on a family play, riding horses, and walking to the village for the latest posts.
The pacing can seem a bit slow, as the plot often doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, just following Jane’s and Jenny’s day to day lives, but it’s kind of fun to see what they get up to. The author tries to throw in some minor scandals, but she sort of relies on the characters saying “How scandalous! I hope no one finds out!” rather than trying to convince readers there’s a real, shocking problem. I understand it might be a hard sell to modern audiences (Women walking alone! Reputations, ruined!), but I would have liked to see Harrison use a little more showing rather than telling. I generally like old books and try to buy into their mindsets to some degree, so it was disappointing Harrison couldn’t quite get me into the eighteenth century here.
As someone who hasn’t actually read any Jane Austen (*gasp*), I can’t tell if this book would be more or less delightful for a true fan. Harrison includes supposed scraps from Jane’s current, teenage writings and alludes to events from her published books. She also draws on Austen’s biography, and letters from contemporary family members, to help plot the book. I’m guessing, but I think an avid Austen fan might find this type of historical fiction to be disappointingly covering things they already know, while fans who love Austen’s works but aren’t caught up in history or academic discussions might find the allusion to her books entertaining.
This book, then, was mostly fun. I was looking for something just fluffy and entertaining to read, which is why I picked this one up. It satisfied me in that respect, and I think readers who normally like Jane Austen-themed books will enjoy it. I’m just not overly excited about it otherwise.