Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

-a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Yesterday was the debut of our lovely alumna Katy White's (aka Kate Watson) novel Seeking Mansfield!

Let's start this review by talking about the things that I did today. First of all, I am a super responsible adult type of human. So I definitely did all of the adulty sorts of things I was supposed to. I definitely didn't spend pretty much the whole day shooing my children outside to play so I could read. I definitely didn't make hot dogs for lunch because it was super fast and then I could go back to reading. I totally didn't let the kids watch more TV than usual so I could finish the book.

Nope. I'm way more responsible than that.

But since I did manage to read the book while also being a fabulous parent and adult, I am now equipped to review it. Hooray!

Star rating: 4/5. I really enjoyed it!

Summary: In this modern YA adaptation of Mansfield Park, Finley Price is an aspiring teen director with a crappy past and an overdeveloped sense of what she owes to her godparents, the Bertrams. Movie stat heartthrob Harlan Crawford and his sister move in next door, and Finley starts having to face all sorts of difficult things, including love.

What I liked: It's been years, admittedly, since I read Mansfield Park, and I think I would have a lot more compassion for Fanny Price than I used to. But when I read it, I just found her to be too much of a doormat. Finley Price is a wonderful modern remake of this character, giving a lot more depth to who she is and how she ended up this way. Also, I found her just much more likable.

The alternating perspectives were fun, and I really loved Oliver. Again, more than the original. Oliver was far less clueless than his Austen counterpart. It's kind of refreshing to read boys who aren't complete idiots and yet are subject to still being teenagers.

I also appreciated watching Finley and Oliver talk themselves into things that didn't make sense or fit them. It felt very real--"I'm going to do this thing because it really seems like the sort of thing I should want to do, even though I don't want to." Sigh.

Really, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was a fun read that modernized a character that lots of modern readers don't like. It also largely avoided the thing I hated most about the 1999 movie adaptation (we'll get to that below).

What didn't work for me: I think I'm a bit like the original Fanny in that I sometimes have a hard time accepting lots of shades of gray in people. So, for example, I didn't like that Finley really didn't seem bothered enough by Emma's behavior. I guess maybe I would have preferred to see Emma be more like the original Mary Crawford, very clearly a pretty awful person.

Other considerations: The 1999 adaptation I referenced above has Fanny Price tell Henry Crawford she's going to marry him (even though she doesn't want to and has been morally repulsed by him all along). Then, when she realizes she simply can't and tells him so, he sleeps with someone else. Essentially the narrative is that if she simply hadn't given in, he wouldn't have been a sleazebag. (Austen fans, correct me if I'm wrong here, but my recollection is that the original Fanny continually refused Henry, despite feeling awful about it, because she had a seriously awesome moral backbone.) It was awful and pretty much the worst narrative decision in the film (in my less-than-humble opinion). Watson's Finley is in a different situation in Seeking Mansfield, and while I don't admire some of her taste in boys, I think she puts the woman-blaming narrative of cheating where it belongs--in the trash.

Clean rating: Yay for a teen romance that I would consider quite clean. It's got a little bit of swearing (what I call the "lesser swear words"), a couple OMGs (which is pretty much my least favorite acronym ever, I admit), and I think one mention of sex? There's also thematic content--alcoholism, abuse, PTSD, and such, so it's not for younger readers, but it's also not dark.

You should go pick it up and then be a completely responsible adult, like me, and not binge read it all day. Like me.

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