Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

I have a list of recent Austen adaptations I want to read, like Ayesha at Last, Unmarriageable, and Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors.  I’d seen great reviews of Pride by Idi Zoboi and was happy to find the audiobook narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo.  I thought her reading was terrific and I really appreciated Zoboi’s fresh look at Pride and Prejudice.

The book takes place in a Brooklyn neighborhood that is mostly made up of immigrant families.  Zuri Benitez (aka Elizabeth Bennett) is worried about her gentrifying neighborhood when the house next to them is rebuilt and the wealthy black Darcy family moves in.  They have two sons, Darius and Ainsley, but Zuri wants nothing to do with them.

You can guess where the story goes, of course.  Sometimes Austen adaptations feel forced, but I really liked this one, because Zoboi minimized storylines that didn’t really work and expanded others. For example, I thought the Collins storyline was cleverly modernized, and the Wickham-Georgiana-Lydia storyline felt modern and realistic in this one.  And instead of exploring Pemberley, Zuri explores college instead.

Zoboi used race, class, and gender differences in a way that also felt modern but true to the original story.  She raised a lot of interesting issues that weren’t easily resolved at the end of the story, and she steered away from turning the mother or the younger Benitez sisters into caricatures (except for Mary, anyway, who’s never much of a character).

Pride and Prejudice always has to wrestle with how difficult to make its main characters.  In this one, Zuri is strong and passionate, but also judgmental and quick to anger.  She’s a more flawed Elizabeth than in many versions.  Darius, on the other hand, is awkward and doesn’t know how to relate to Zuri and her family, but he’s not terrible.  Pride and Prejudice works best when you really like both characters, and root for them to work out their differences, and I think Zoboi accomplishes that.

Zoboi is a Haitian-American who came to the United States when she was four years old.  Anyone who enjoyed the poetry of Poet X and On the Come Up will appreciate the way Zoboi integrates poetry into this book. I also recommend this for anyone who likes Manuel Lin-Miranda’s In the Heights (which I am currently listening to obsessively).

This version will appeal more to teens than adults, and there’s quite a bit of emphasis on appearance, but I found it fun to listen to.  It’s a fresh, modern interpretation of a classic that doesn’t shy away from race, class, and cultural issues.

Note: I read this book for the Read Harder 2020 Challenge (retelling of a classic).

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