Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Are you a particular fan of classic "remixes"? I AM. I cannot tell you how many knockoffs, sequels, and re-writes of Pride and Prejudice I've read. The number would likely astonish you. Some are good, some are bad, some are strange. But for someone with a constant appetite for more from an author who has been dead these two hundred years, they are a balm to the hangover, a drop of water for my long parched thirst.
Pride by Ibi Zaboi is a remix of Pride and Prejudice, wrote in the "Little Haiti" of modern day Brooklyn. Zuri Benitez lives in a one bedroom apartment with her 4 sisters and parents, a hard working and well read Dominican father, and a thankfully not ridiculous black mother. I was really very grateful that I did not have to picture a modern day version of Mrs. Bennet, I'm frankly shuddering at the thought. Across the street, an old house is being renovated into a mansion, where the Darcy family moves in. Zuri takes an instant dislike to Darius Darcy, and the rest is history. Well, historical fiction.
There were some parts of this story that I really liked. Zuri's prejudice against a wealthy black family is well founded, and at the basis of it is a beautiful love for her neighborhood, her culture, an outright desperation to hang on for dear life to that life, while at the same time needing and wanting more for herself, her family, and her hood. I loved this cultural spin with a modern theme on the morals of classic Austen.
But there were some points that fell flat for me. Zuri's love and protectiveness for her sisters is said out loud, but she begins her warming towards Darius BEFORE he even tries to resolve or even apologize for the break between her sister Janae and his brother Ainsley. I ended up just not liking her character in the end. She is selfish and stubborn and rude, with very few redeemable qualities.
The side story of Charlize and Collin is just that, a barely mentioned side story which had no actual bearing on the plot. The writer could have left it out completely and it would have had no bearing on the story whatsoever. But as a well read Austenite, I believe the author has missed the whole point of that parable, the warning for the protagonist, that THIS is what happens when you marry for money and security instead of love. Zuri needs that lesson as much as Elizabeth Bennet did, but she didn't get it.
The corners and sharp edges of this retelling SHOULD be sharp. I expected it, I wanted it, I was looking forward to a more colorful story filled with Haitian culture with a Brooklyn backdrop, with characters vastly different from their proper English counterparts. But so much potential was left on the table. None of the Benitez sisters are forced into any very serious diversity, other than typical teenage angst. "Acceptance of change" was the most difficult thing for these kids to deal with. I wanted more maturity I suppose, and a closer look into the motives of their dislike.
The book did seem to be written more like a script for a movie than a novel, and it actually could make a good one if they make Zuri more endearing. There's not a whole lot that really HAPPENS in the plot line, it's mostly dialogue. Some back and forth rudeness, one short fistfight, and the story is over. I wanted to love it, but I think it's hard taking a classic and making it modern, making it unique, while staying true to the original intent of the author. So many props to Ibi Zoboi, I did enjoy this read.