Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Enthusiasm coverAshleigh has a history of enthusiasm. When she loved Little House on the Prairie, she tried to wear her flowered nightgown to school. When she was into The Wet Blankets, she camped out — with the ingredients for a wet blanket salute — in front of a music store that promised free tickets to their next concert. Now, besotted with the newly-discovered Pride and Prejudice, Ashleigh is covering her “lower limbs,” learning country dances, and figuring out how to crash a prep school dance to find Mr Darcy…and a nice Mr Bingley for her best friend.

Julie, the best friend, and the narrator of Enthusiasm, is a quieter sort. She’s happier reading a good book than trying to live it, but she goes along with Ashleigh’s projects, partly out of love for her friend, and partly because, embarrassment aside, she usually does have a good time. It’s true that Pride and Prejudice was Julie’s favourite book long before Ashleigh embraced it, and the “Mr Bingley” they meet at the dance does seem a much better fit for her enthusiastic friend. But Ashleigh’s never been anything but generous, and sometimes you have to put aside your own feelings to support your friend. Right?

One of Enthusiasm’s real strengths is its exploration of friendship. Julie and Ashleigh misunderstand and occasionally (unintentionally) hurt one another, but both are consistently motivated by an interest in the other’s happiness. Is the story rather “light and sparkling”? Sure. But with solid characters, believable friendships, and a hint of Austen more creative than most, I’d say this one’s well worth a read.

A small warning: The characters do use an unusual collection of slang words, which is a bit jarring at first. The words are used consistently, though, so they fade into the background pretty quickly.

Read more reviews at Austen Prose and Angieville

Read an author-supplied excerpt from Ashleigh’s book, Dancing and Its Relations to Education and Social Life, With a New Method of Instruction Including a Complete Guide to the Cotillion (German), With 250 Figures, by Allen Dodworth: http://www.pollyshulman.com/dodworth.html

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