I had such high hopes for Pride (2018) by Ibi Zoboi. I first saw it on NPR’s Best Books of 2018 List, and I was immediately intrigued. The description of Pride as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, sounded fantastic. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books of all time, and one of the few books that I’ve actually reread. I have high standards for retellings and adaptations, but when they’re done well, I love them. Two of my favorites are “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” Youtube series and Longbourn by Jo Baker.
Perhaps I began this book with unreasonably high expectations, but I left frustrated and disappointed. Zuri Benitez is the Elizabeth Bennet character. She lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with her parents and her four sisters: Janae, Marisol, Layla, and Kayla. She is of Dominican/Haitian descent, and has never really been outside of her neighborhood. She loves, and is fiercely protective of her family and neighborhood, though, and is scared of what gentrification will mean for it. So when the Darcy’s, a rich, black family, moves into the newly renovated mansion across the street, she takes an immediate dislike to all of them.
Janae is just back from Syracuse University in New York and is very excited about her expanded world. Janae immediately hits it off with the elder Darcy brother, Ainsley, while Zuri has awkward moments with Darius, the younger brother. Zuri’s two youngest sisters, Layla and Kayla, flirt as much as their baby teenage selves can handle. Marisol, instead of being obsessed with music and God, is obsessed with money and making money–a slight change that I found clever.
One of my main problems with this book, is that besides the number and names of some of the characters, I couldn’t see why it was pretending to be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favorite characters in literature. She is smart, funny, and witty. She is comfortable wherever she goes and quietly stands up to those around her with confidence. Zuri Benitiez is scared and defensive. Her main focus the summer before her senior year of high school is on writing her college application essay to Howard University. Instead of thoughtful, witty banter, Zuri rolls her eyes, and when she’s really upset, she rolls her eyes hard. Part of my problem was that I didn’t realize this was a young adult book. I expected the characters to be older and caring about things other than SAT’s and college essays.
However, the other problem was that the characters and their issues did not feel developed. I’ve read young adult books that tear my heart out, but I couldn’t feel much for anyone in this book. Zuri’s parents are barely shadow characters. There is a Colin character who gets together with Zuri’s friend, Charlize. The only drama is that Zuri doesn’t really like Colin. Charlize seems to like Colin and has her own prospects, with her own job and a basketball scholarship to Duke. The original really plays up the obnoxiousness of Colin, the tension between Elizabeth and her mother when she refuses his proposal, and Elizabeth’s horror that Charlotte would be forced to marry someone so ridiculous because her circumstances require it for stability.
The relationship between Zuri and Darius was also not very satisfying. Zuri was immediately and rudely defensive with Darius. It was hard to see what Darius saw in her. In addition, there wasn’t much development of their relationship. They hate each other, suddenly they’re making out, and then Zuri’s mad at him again. Darius doesn’t make any grand, secret gestures (he’s really too young for that anyway). There is a character named Warren who plays the Mr. Wickham character, but it does not pack the same punch.
Zoboi brought up some interesting themes, including gentrification, racism, and class issues, but she didn’t address these issues in a full, satisfying way. Again, Zuri would act defensive and angry at the rich, mostly white people moving into and changing her neighborhood. When her family is forced out of their apartment, it could have been a very meaningful moment, but it wasn’t. I thought the best writing in the book was the poetry that Zuri writes in spots throughout the book.
All in all, I think this might have been a better book if Zoboi had not stamped this story onto a Pride and Prejudice template and, instead, really dug into the issues of gentrification and class and how they affected her family.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.