Zuri Benitez is proud of her Bushwick neighborhood and proud of her heritage. She is not thrilled when a wealthy Black family moves in across the street. They must be so stuck up! But she has other things to worry about, like her college applications and the gentrification of her neighborhood. But that Darius Darcy boy sure looks attractive…
Pride is a fresh retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that pays homage to the original story while making the tale fully its own. Zuri Benitez is one of five daughters growing up in Brookly, and she is planning out a future full of dreams–one where she goes to Howard and then comes back to help transform the neighborhood she loves. When two handsome, rich brothers move in across the street, however, Zuri will be confronted with some of her own prejudices. She does not think the boys belong in her neighborhood, but they may not be as stuck up as she believes. Readers looking for a contemporary story lead by a fiercely independent heroine and told in brilliantly strong prose will be enthralled by Ibi Zoboi’s Pride.
Zuri’s voice carries Pride, making readers fall in love with her, her neighborhood, and her family. Her life, as she tells us, is one full of love, and that comes across on every page as Zuri defends the place she calls home and describes the camaraderie and the care she finds there. She knows some people think her neighborhood is not safe. She knows that people are judging her for where she lives. But she wants them to know that everyone on her street knows the code and they all look out for each other. Her story is a celebration–a celebration of all the good she finds in the people around her, and the ways that goodness uplifts her.
Of course, this is a Pride and Prejudice retelling, so Zuri’s pride ultimately is her undoing when it moves from an understandable love of her home to prejudice against anyone she sees as an outsider, or not like her. She is immediately suspicious of the handsome and rich Darius Darcy and his family because she believes they must look down upon her and her family. Almost as a defense mechanism, she begins to accuse Darius of any manner of things–essentially not being “Black enough” because of the music he likes, the school he attends, the way he behaves with his friends.
This part of Zuri makes for a compelling story and, indeed, makes her a compelling character. But I do think it lessens the realism of the story a bit. While readers may understand some of Zuri’s feeling, since they get to hear the story from her, it is difficult to understand why Darius falls in love with her. Zuri basically attacks him for not being good enough from day one, and she never lets up, eventually telling him that she needs a “boy from the hood” like Warren–not some rich boy like Darius who has a big house and does not understand the street code. Darius never does anything to deserve the attributes Zuri ascribes to him and he never does anything that seems like it should provoke her into insulting him. Indeed, he reads like the perfect YA boyfriend–handsome, strong, smart, and sensitive, always saying just the right thing. Why he wants to date someone who has never said a kind thing to him is kind of confusing. Maybe readers are supposed to assume that he somehow sees past everything she says to some inner part of her she never actually reveals to him in the book?
This is a minor critique, however, and one not likely to bother the average reader. After all, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, so readers probably expect the characters to be, well, proud and prejudiced. The appeal of the story is watching the characters work past that to something more. And Zoboi delivers that story in powerfully vivid prose, one that makes Zuri’s voice come alive. It’s a voice that comes across with great emotion through the wonderful audiobook read by another talented YA author, Elizabeth Acevedo.
Pride is a book that will, of course, appeal to fans of Jane Austen, but it is truly its own story that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Anyone who loves contemporary YA romance, fierce heroines, and strong prose will likely enjoy Ibi Zoboi’s powerful and original novel.