2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend (Hardcover)
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I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen and her novels so when I heard about this novel by Cora Harrison I was interested to read it. I didn't realise that it was targeted at the teen/young adult market however. I have read some other books aimed at this age group so wasn't too worried.
`Jenny' Cooper is Jane's cousin and school friend and this is her diary over a year, which we are reading, where for much of it she lived with the Austen family in Steventon, Hampshire. In it she writes about her and Jane's life, her thoughts and makes sketches (illustrated by Susan Hellard) and is aged about fifteen. The language used is more contemporary than you would expect from the period, but I think this is a concession to the target audience, making it more accessible and relatable. I certainly think it would educate a 21st century teen into the life of an 18th century one, as the way of life for young ladies of the time is clearly discussed, as is the fashions and etiquette of the time. The diary format means the book has natural breaks, and keeps it to an easy, light read.
As easy as this is to read (certainly for me as an adult, and I can imagine older children wouldn't struggle either), there still needs to be a story. There is an element of intrigue and romance in the book that helps keep the story flowing across the diary entries. I found myself quite hooked in no time, absorbed in the family relationships, enigmatic gentlemen and other assorted characters. There are not too many characters either, Jane has a lot of brothers and Jenny notes down a little bit about each one at the beginning of the book so that she (and us) can keep track and have something to refer back to if we needed.
For anyone who has read anything about Jane Austen as a person, or visited her homes or the Jane Austen Centre in Bath then you will enjoy the references made to her family, people and places that appear in the book. Generally I think the book has been well-researched and is fairly accurate, although with all historical fiction some artistic license is required. Jane really did have a cousin Cooper, but she was called Jane also, hence her name being changed to avoid confusion in the book, and she wasn't quite the right age. Jane Austen actually went to boarding school with her sister Cassandra and shared a bedroom with her most of her life, but in this book that role was taken by Jenny.
The book is definitely aimed at the female market (mine has a contemporary pink cover to it) and is quite girlie. The illustrations are usually of family members or fashion details such as lace trims, and don't take up much of the book. If that doesn't put you off then I do recommend reading this book, I think the plot is absorbing and generally well-written and can appeal to Jane-ites across the board and is an excellent introduction to Austen for younger readers. However, I think you would get slightly more out of it if you had read some of her books prior to reading this.