“It’s a tragedy,” I insisted. “Sure, Elizabeth and Jane get their guys, and Lydia makes an exciting, scandalous marriage, and the author hopes that Kitty will turn out okay, but Mary…it’s a tragedy for Mary.”
(from First Impressions, page 1)
Quick summary: First Impressions by Marilyn Sachs is a young-adult novel told from the point of view of Alice, the third child in a family of five who feels unappreciated by her parents and siblings. She is a straight-A student forced to spend Christmas break rewriting a paper on Pride and Prejudice so her teacher will reconsider the C+ she received for misinterpreting the novel. Given Alice’s place in her family, it’s not surprising that she identifies most with Mary Bennet, and she is unwilling to believe her teacher’s contention that Jane Austen intended for Mary to be a minor character who provides comic relief, not a tragic character who needs a chance to shine. After a mysterious woman in a raincoat appears at random moments, and her new boyfriend, Kevin, offers to read and discuss the book with her, something magical begins to happen. Alice finds herself and Kevin within the pages of Austen’s novel, and as she sets out to change Mary’s fate, she finds that her own life may be changing, too.
Why I wanted to read it: I was in the mood for a short Austen-inspired novel that wasn’t simply a retelling of Elizabeth and Darcy’s story.
What I liked: I liked the premise of the novel, that someone might identify with one of the other Bennet sisters and the idea of being able to dive into a novel and play with the storyline a bit. I also thought it was nice that Alice slyly encouraged her father to ask her mom out on a date after recognizing how much fun her mom had helping Alice pick out a dress for her first New Year’s Eve party.
What I disliked: I wished the novel focused more on the magical aspects of the book, which took a backseat to Alice’s relationship with Kevin and helping her parents rekindle their relationship. I didn’t like how Alice’s teacher thought her interpretation of the novel was wrong, especially since she was able to back up her arguments. It also felt like Alice’s newfound sense of self seemed too heavily reliant on Kevin. The secondary characters felt flat, but at 117 pages, there wasn’t much room for character development, aside from the changes in Alice.
Final thoughts: Overall, I thought First Impressions was an okay novel. There was nothing wrong with the writing, but there was nothing memorable about the characters. Part of that might be related to the fact that I’m not the target audience for this novel, but I have enjoyed plenty of YA novels in the past. I think I would have enjoyed the novel more had the magical aspects been fleshed out a little more. Still, I must applaud Sachs for making readers think more critically about Mary Bennet and how the events of Pride and Prejudice would have affected her life.
Disclosure: I borrowed First Impressions from the public library.
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