By Ibi Zoboi
Hardcover, 289 pages
2018, Balzer + Bray
Zuri Benitez loves her hood – the block parties, the corner stores, the way everyone knows and looks out for each other. When the rich Darcy family renovates an abandoned house across the street from her apartment and moves in, Zuri is immediately suspicious. She doesn’t need some rich family coming in and trying to change her neighborhood. But when her older sisters Janae starts hanging out with Ainsley Darcy, Zuri finds herself running into Ainsley’s younger brother, Darius. She doesn’t want to like or understand the polished, polite Darius, nor does she think he could ever understand her and her way of life. She might just find, though, that appearances aren’t always what they seem.
While YA romance is certainly not my genre of choice, no way was I passing up an own-voices, modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.
While I didn’t love this as much as I’d hoped, it was still an enjoyable read and one I’ll hold on to. I’m certainly happy that it exists; with a variety of classic reinterpretations available, we definitely need more by own voices authors.
Pride takes a look at two families living in Bushwick, NY. We have the Benitezes: five sisters living in a small apartment with their parents. They’re loud, loving and proud. Then there are the two Darcy boys: new to the neighborhood, well-off, and slightly standoffish. Zuri (our Elizabeth) is happy to have her older sister Janae (Jane) home from college for the summer. The moment Ainsley (Bingley) and Darius (Fitzwilliam) Darcy move in, Zuri is judgmental and concerned that her neighborhood, her home, will change because of the arrival of these rich boys.
Zuri is incessantly stubborn and borderline hateful towards the Darcy boys. Her sisters immediately introduce themselves to the Darcy boys, charmed by how cute they are, and of course, Janae and Ainsley hit it off immediately. Zuri seems offended by the wealth of the Darcys and her take on Darius from the start is that he’s cold and stuck-up. Maybe I’m biased after having read the original so many times, but while I understand Darcy is prideful, I also viewed him as shy and a bit socially awkward. I gave Darius the same benefit of the doubt, but Zuri wasn’t so open-minded.
Throughout the book, Zuri’s tough, sometimes incredibly negative and rude, attitude gets in the way of her giving the Darcy boys a chance. I understand she’s being protective of the lifestyle she’s used to and she’s grown up seeing the gentrification of other neighborhoods around hers, but I also wanted to tell her to shut up and listen to someone else’s perspective for once. (Side note: At one point, Zuri refers to her friend Charlise’s hands as “man hands” and I thought that was a really rude thing for a friend to think, and totally unnecessary.)
In contrast to Zuri, Darius is almost overly calm and bland. Rather than appear prideful or condescending (though he does have his moments), he’s mostly…boring. He doesn’t get a lot of page time either. His character is mostly thought about by Zuri, and thus, seen through her filters. Ainsley is underdeveloped, but really, so are most characters outside Darius, Zuri and maybe Warren (the Wickham). Ainsley’s character is basically just jovial and outgoing and he’s either hanging with Janae or out of the picture. Same with Zuri’s other sisters. Though I was happy to see that Marisol is the money-wise sister and definitely not considered to be a total goober by her whole family. Yet again, some just for Mary’s character – I just wish she’d been around more!
Since Zuri spends most of the book hating on Darius and their interactions are somewhat sparse, their relationship felt really rushed. It felt like suddenly she liked him, but I didn’t have a good sense of why. Unlike in the original, you don’t get to watch these two characters start to spend more time together and start to realize they might have feelings for each other. You don’t get a sense of worry that Elizabeth blew it with Darcy and pine for them to be together. Darius’s grandmother is even more of a bitch than his aunt in the book and Darius never once stands up for Zuri. He doesn’t stand up for her against his bitch friends either. It doesn’t seem like Zuri’s character would appreciate that lack of support. Darius, on the other hand, just seems to like Zuri because she’s not like other girls. She gives him so much shit and is so blatantly judgmental and rude; I’m not sure why he finds that appealing.
I almost wish the book had skipped the romance and had the two just become friends. By the end of the book, Zuri has some other life changes taking place, one of them being going off to college. I felt like that could have been enough – the hasty romance needn’t have been included. Or, I wish there had been more tension and development between the characters – more dialogue and interaction and less of Zuri’s thoughts on Darcy. Cut some of the introspection and replace it with a better-established romance.
I did appreciate the upgrade sleazy Warren was given. I’m always curious in the modern retellings to see how the vile deeds of Wickham’s character will be reinterpreted. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that Warren’s act against Darius’s sister was sadly a relevant situation today’s teens experience. His later actions with Zuri’s sister, Layla, felt a little lower-stakes, but still relevant.
There’s also a poetry element to this book. Zuri writes poems throughout the book and while it’s not my thing, I viewed it as a modern update to letter writing.
In the end, the characters and their lack of real development brought the book down for me. I wanted this book to be a smash hit, but it didn’t deliver. As I said earlier though, I’m glad it exists and I’m glad I read it. I appreciate what Zoboi was doing here, and I could feel for Zuri’s situation. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Zuri or Darius likable or their romance believable.
I would recommend this if you are:
+ Looking for a YA romance set in modern NY
+ Looking for a YA Pride and Prejudice retelling
+ A teen reader that maybe isn’t a big fan (or even familiar with) Pride and Prejudice, but you’re looking for an updated retelling
+ Looking for an own-voices YA that isn’t shy about its character’s experiences, but is still somewhat lighthearted