To me, a good retelling has several key elements. The first key element is that if you have not read the origin story, the retelling makes you desperately want to read it (see: For Darkness Shows The Stars). Second, the retelling stays true to the original BUT build it’s own unique momentum. Unfortunately, I came into Jane Austen Goes To Hollywood by Abby McDonald, a contemporary retelling of Sense And Sensibility with expectations that were not met. I’ve read another book by McDonald and really enjoyed it. I’ve also read Austen’s Pride And Prejudice and really enjoyed it. However, my prior enjoyment of those two things did not culminate in a love of Jane Austen Goes To Hollywood at all. Instead, I found it to be lackluster – however it does have a few bonus points going for it.
Grace and Hallie Weston’s father dies rather unexpectedly of a heart attack. Unfortunately, he did not have a will, so all of the money that he had went to his second wife, leaving nothing for Grace or Hallie. This totally sucks, it gets to the point where the two are forced out of the home they grew up in. Luckily, they have a rich uncle who lives in Hollywood and offers them a place to stay in the guest house. With no other options, the two sisters go with their mother to live in Hollywood. There, Grace pines for Theo, her stepmother’s brother, but more than that, a college boy whom she was getting very close to. Hallie soaks up the scene, falling for a guy named Dakota who saves her from drowning in the ocean. Dakota is a wannabe rock star, so while Hallie is head over heels for him, we can all see where this is going. Basically, Jane Austen Goes To Hollywood is about the two Weston sisters navigating a new landscape in the wake of their father’s death and more than that, about affairs of the heart.
Grace is supposed to be Elinor Dashwood. She’s sensible and studious and logical. The girl would never make an impulsive decision. She also is really into science, which I think is totally awesome. Probably Grace’s biggest flaw is that she comes across as super judgmental when it comes to her sister. She is also kind of a wet blanket. I think that if you were to compare her to another children’s literature character it would be Elizabeth Wakefield. Enough said.
Hallie is supposed to be Marianne Dashwood. She’s very emotional and mercurial. She wants to be a famous actress. Unfortunately, Hallie is constantly throwing tantrums and acting out. She experiences very, very intense feelings and does some things that had me shaking my head — like what the what? While she is the most interesting of the two girls, I did not entirely sympathize with her or even connect.
There are several romances going on in Jane Austen Goes To Hollywood. None of these romances are all that sizzling though. There was never an OMG OMG I HOPE THEY KISS THERE ARE SPARKS AND CHEMISTRY feeling with this book. Instead, I felt like I was biding my time reading until the end. There is one character though, that I wish had recieved more page time and that’s Brandon. He’s the strong, silent type and totally into Hallie, but she just cannot be bothered with him.
I will say, one cool thing McDonald did with her retelling was cast Grace and Hallie as multi-racial — their dad is white and their mom is Nigerian. I liked that there was actually some diversity for once. Unfortunately, that was not enough to make me love the book and overall, I ended up feeling apathetic toward this retelling. No love. No hate. Take that as you will.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.
Other reviews of Jane Austen Goes To Hollywood by Abby McDonald:
Alexa Loves Books – “exactly the kind of novel I was craving when I picked it up”
A Girl, Books And Other Things – “the writing was fun”
YA Litwit – “I think you will be pleasantly surprised”
Books by Abby McDonald:
Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots