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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 at the time however. Saying that, 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 recognise 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.
When I received this book I was a little surprised that rather than adult fiction, it was aimed at young teenagers. However I enjoy young adult fiction so I wasn't bothered, and as soon as I started reading it, I completely fell in love with it.
The story is about Jenny Cooper, the sixteen year old cousin of a fifteen year old Jane Austen. After losing her parents, Jenny goes to live with Jane and her family. She finds herself thrown into a world of balls, gowns and flirtations from rich young men, a naval captain and Jane's older brothers. The shy and pretty Jenny must navigate this new world whilst trying to keep a secret from her recent past, which if it got out would ruin her reputation and chances of marriage. Will she manage to keep her secret and who will she end up with?
This book is written in the form of Jenny's diary entries and I found this to be a great style, as we really get to know Jenny's character through all her thoughts and feelings. I immediately warmed to Jenny and the little sketches that she sprinkles throughout her diary are endearing too, and give us an idea of what the different characters look like. I found Jenny's love life to be completely addictive and I couldn't wait to find out whether she ended up with one of Jane's brothers, with William or with Captain Thomas.
The book is a real page turner and is sweet, funny and very readable. It gives us an enticing glance at who Jane Austen was and the sort of world she lived in. However if you are looking for a historically accurate book, this might not be for you, as little is really known about Jenny, and the author confesses at the end that even from what is known, she has changed quite a lot (such as Jenny's age and name!) Still, it gives us an idea of the time and its conventions, and I defy anyone to read this and not want to read Pride and Prejudice immediately afterwards, as this is like a junior version of that novel!
The novel is not perfect and I was vaguely aware that Jenny's writing style and the speaking style of all the characters is probably a bit modern for the time, however I can forgive any errors because I enjoyed the book so much. It kept me up reading at night and it's a long time since I've loved a novel this much, so it has to be five stars and a hearty recommendation from me!
This book is a hardback and has an RRP of £8.99, but Amazon are currently selling it for £6.29. Apparantly you will receive a beautiful gift edition, however I only have a proof copy so cannot tell you what this might entail!