By the Book: A Review

Seeing Adam’s library now made me feel ill with want. I felt like he’d stolen part of my dreams, like he was living the life I’d wanted. “This was supposed to be my library,” I wanted to scream. Was he taunting me? Showing me the life I could have had if we hadn’t broken up?

By The Book

By the Book
By: Julia Sonneborn
Published by: Gallery Books
Purchased on: Amazon
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Why I read it

I bought this book on a whim. I was looking for future book club picks on Amazon, and this title popped. When I read the premise—a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—my heart dropped a little. For NaNoWriMo 2017, I also wrote a modern retelling of Persuasion, which I’m still working on. So, naturally, I had to see what this one was like, and I bought it on the spot.

Premise

Anne Corey is living the dream as an English Professor at a small college in California. Unfortunately, that dream also includes crushing student loan debt and the struggle of trying to get an academic book published—not to mention that her job security depends on getting said book published. Add to that an aging father who needs to be moved to an assisted living facility nearby, and she’s got quite enough to be going on with outside of her teaching load. But then, everything gets a little more complicated as her ex-fiancé makes his debut as the new president of the college.

Prose

First person point of view can be tricky. After an awkward first sentence, however, this read smoothly. There were a few places where Sonneborn imposed emails to supply information: student loan balances, overdue library fines, and manuscript rejections. Much like the text messages that are also peppered throughout the book, I thought these added nicely to the voice. It’s an extension of being in Anne’s head that feels very natural. Overall, the writing itself is solid.

Characters

A good balance of nods to the original cast of Persuasion with some new creations. Lady Russell, for example, becomes a faculty advisor during Anne’s college years (very fitting), and Mr. Elliot makes an appearance as an untrustworthy love interest (got to have one of those). Of the new characters, I particularly enjoyed Larry, Anne’s gay best friend. I was nervous, at first, that he might turn into a cliché. But he served as necessary comic relief, a foil to Anne’s more serious nature.

But in a discussion of the characters in Persuasion, we must focus our attention to our heroine and hero. Anne, despite being on the serious side, is a very likeable protagonist. She also feels authentic as a scholar of British Literature. All the issues she faces related to her job are reasons why I did not pursue a PhD in Literature myself. Much like the original Anne Elliot, Anne Corey is composed and her emotional turmoil is largely internal. Again, the regret and self-doubt she experiences ring true, and this inner conflict makes her sympathetic.

Sonneborn makes some interesting updates to the Wentworth, rechristened Adam Martinez. Adam comes from a single parent home, and like the original Wentworth, doesn’t have money to recommend him. But he’s still ambitious (true to the original), returning to Princeton after a five-year absence. And, clearly, he goes on to do very well for himself. I liked the brief moments where we saw him and Anne together in college. His background earns him some much needed depth, as in the present he’s just a decent human (unlike the original, who does act the arrogant ass in places).

Plot

The plot is well paced. Like the core characters, it stays true to the original in important places. The Austenite will immediately recognize the references, but it all makes sense (in terms of character choices and motivation) even if you’re not familiar with Persuasion. There was a subplot involving Larry that I thought was unnecessary, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

Verdict

I loved this book. It felt like being curled up with a cup of tea in my college coffee shop. Authentic characters, easy prose, and a warming love story. Fans of Austen, or just the genre of feel-good women’s fiction should add this to their reading lists.

What books make you feel like you’re curled up with a cup of tea?

Happy Reading,
Angela

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