I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
By Cora Harrison
Delacorte Press, 2010. 342 pgs. Young Adult
Jenny Cooper and Jane Austen are cousins and best friends who live in the same boarding school in Portsmouth, England. One night, Jenny risks everything by sneaking out of the school to get a message to Jane's mother about her daughter's deathly illness. When Mrs. Austen arrives, she takes both Jane and Jenny back home to Steventon, and when Jane recovers they enter a world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, and romance. But should Jenny's secret about that desperate night become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also the kind Austen family. Her world turns upside down when the one person who saw her that night arrives in Steventon, someone whom she hasn't been able to stop thinking about, despite her best efforts.
This was the best Austen-related book I have read in quite some time. In creating Jenny's faux-diary, Cora Harrison researched biographies, critical studies, family letters, and Jane Austen's writing (both as a child and an adult), and I think she was rather successful at piecing everything together into a compelling, believable story based on actual events. I think in an effort to show Jane Austen as a playful teenager who didn't play by the rules of society, Jane's near-constant irreverence got a little bit annoying at times, but there was still a lot of heart to this book and overall this was very enjoyable and fun. I liked Jenny's character and it was fun to pick out bits and pieces of Austen's novels from the characters and events in this book (supposed "inspiration" for her later works). This is one for fans of Jane Austen, historical fiction, and romance.