My first Austen-inspired novel is a modern, YA take on Pride and Prejudice. While writing it, I liked the challenge of translating Regency problems into modern predicaments that would feel real to a twenty-first century teenager. For instance, Darcy’s 10,000 pounds a year wouldn’t have the same allure to a high school student as it did to Mrs. Bennet. What’s the modern equivalent that will make my Mr. Darcy an instant heart throb? Popularity was currency in high school. So was charisma. (Yikes. A popular and charismatic Darcy. Have you already closed your browser?) And of course he needs a touch of meanness. (Why are we all attracted to that at some point in our lives?) But teen Darcy can’t be too mean. The worst Darcys are the ones where we’re begging Elizabeth to make a play for that kindhearted Mr. Bingley instead.
Charlotte’s rational but unromantic decision to marry Mr. Collins presented another problem. How can that translate into something that makes sense for a teenager? But I remember girl talks about how it didn’t matter who was giving us the corsage as long as we had a date to prom, the dance of the year. And I remember the cache of having a boyfriend—any boyfriend—just so I could say, “Everyone, this is Mike. He can fog a mirror!” So maybe even today’s high schoolers are willing to enter relationships for reasons that feel more necessary than romantic.
There’s also the bigger problem of when Elizabeth tours Darcy’s estate, meets his housekeeper who speaks so well of him, and gets a feel for what it would mean to be Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. That scene is solidly time stamped. How can it be transformed into something that makes sense for a modern teen?
Oh. You thought I was going to tell you. Sorry, but that’s way too deep into the novel for a reveal.
(And the name Fitzwilliam! How to translate that?)
Despite these modernizing shifts, I still wanted my novel to capture all my favorite parts of Austen’s works: her wit, her romantic scenes and lines, her dialogue heavy/description light style, and of course, her absurd characters. While my Mr. Collins doesn’t have to be a mimic of the original, he needs to capture the spirit of absurdity that we love about Austen’s creation.
That’s an apt description for the whole novel—it’s not a rewrite; it’s a modern translation that strives to capture the spirit of Austen’s original.
It’s different from what’s typically posted on this site—not a period piece, and not the original characters as adults—but I hope you’ll take a peek. For the next week (until February 3rd), I’m dropping the price of the eBook, First Impressions: a YA Twist on Pride and Prejudice, to $.99. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited, and you can find it here on Amazon. Check out chapter 1 below.
First Impressions: a YA Twist on Pride and Prejudice
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if a guy is hot, popular, and single, then he’s just dying to ask a nerdy girl to prom—if only she’d take off her glasses and let her hair down.
That’s the script that sells in Hollywood, anyway.
I don’t need hot or popular. I’d be fine with someone who’s smart and nice and thinks a cool Saturday afternoon means knitting and watching Frozen together. Is there, like, a cafeteria table where those guys hang out?
My best friend Cherry throws her backpack down and takes a seat in the bleachers. “I heard they’re announcing the prom theme at the end of the rally!” she says.
“Already?” my sister Jane asks because prom is months away.
“Oh, it’s starting!” Cherry pulls Jane and me to our feet just as the football players run onto the gym floor and smash through a paper banner that reads “School Spirit and Prom Rally!!!” The cheerleaders follow, creating a wave of orange and black, and the bleachers around us vibrate with stomping feet and screams.
“So. Project Prom,” Cherry says. “We have to pick dates, fast.”
Cherry announced in September that our goal for junior year is to snag prom dates. It’s a junior-senior prom, so this is the first year she and I can go. Since Jane’s a senior, she went last year, but of course she wants to go her senior year
“I call John Ramos.” Cherry leans past me to gawk at him. “I’ve always thought he was cute.”
But then John turns and kisses the girl sitting next to him.
“Eh,” Cherry says. “He’s not that great, actually. Who else? We have to hurry. Only 71 shopping days left.”
“For boys or dresses?” Jane asks.
“For men, Jane. Men.”
I laugh. “Pretty sure you’re not going to find any of those around here.” Especially since I just watched the guy a few rows down take the gum out of his mouth and stick it to the bottom of the bleachers.
But Cherry’s scanning the crowded gym as if all she has to do is point to a guy and click “add to cart.”
“You promised you’d try, Libby,” Cherry says. “Trying means looking hot.” She reaches up to undo my hair clip, letting my dark curls loose. If I wore glasses, I’m sure she’d take those off too.
“That’s the problem. You have way too many standards. Here—why don’t you put all of your standards in this?” Cherry holds out an imaginary bag.
“OK.” I laugh a little and play along. “Here’s the Nice Guy one, and the Has to be At Least Sort of Cute one.” I pretend drop my standards into her bag. “This is the Doesn’t Make Me Cringe and Want to Die Every Time He Talks one, and here’s the Has At Least Three Brain Cells one.”
“My gosh. You’d go on forever.” She closes the imaginary bag and pretends to throw it over her shoulder. “There. No more standards. Now you can actually get a date.”
I look behind her. “I only wanted three brain cells.”
“No, you want about a million. You’re the pickiest person ever. Who’s Teo waving at?” She points to the middle of the gym floor, where Teo—pronounced Tay-o—is waving his arms over his head, trying to get someone’s attention. Around him, his teammates toss footballs back and forth, while the cheerleaders launch into handsprings and cartwheels.
I glance over to see Jane moving her fingers in a small wave. No way.
“Jane,” I ask. “Is he waving at you?”
Jane lowers her hand quickly, a soft smile spreading over her face. “I think so. He’s cute, right?”
“Um, he’s so hot you could boil water on him,” Cherry says.
Cherry thinks everyone’s hot, but Teo does have that good boy look, with his carefully styled dark hair and friendly eyes that crinkle in the corners when he smiles. He’s too wrapped up in that cliquey popular crowd for me. But he still somehow manages to be a good guy, so I approve.
“He’s definitely cute,” I say.
Jane nods, still staring at him. “And nice?”
“Really nice. He’s a good pick.”
Jane meets my eyes and smiles, but then her gaze slides away. “Not that Bobby wasn’t nice.”
“Right. Sure.” I force the words out because I am Not Allowed to say bad things about Bobby.
Even though he spent the last three years taking my sister’s heart and spiking it like that football player’s spiking the football right now. She’s been devastated since they broke up, so if she’s actually ready to move on, this is huge.
“Do you really like him?” I ask.
She flashes me a smile that makes her whole face come alive.
“Oh my gosh.” I reach out to grab her hand. “You do. Did something happen today? Tell me everything. He talked to you, right? When? What did you both say? And did your hair fall over your cheek like it’s doing now because it looks really good like that.”
Jane laughs and tucks her soft brown hair behind her ear. “It was after second period. I passed him in the halls, and he looked at me, and we smiled at each other. Then he stopped and talked to me—just kind of out of the blue. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but my stomach felt all fluttery. I think he asked if I was going to the rally.”
Cherry puts a hand over her heart. “That is so sweet.”
I squeeze Jane’s hand. “It is. He didn’t just stop and talk to you out of the blue, though. He’s been waiting for you to smile at him since, like, middle school.”
“Seriously,” Cherry says. “He’s been in love with you forever. He probably had a party when Bobby moved.”
I wanted to have a party when Bobby moved. He promised to keep in touch, but Jane’s spent the last eight months constantly checking her phone, waiting for texts and messages that never come. It’s like he wanted to string her along even after he was gone.
“Oh, yeah,” I say. “I bet Teo had a huge party when Bobby left. With bouncy houses and balloons.”
Cherry nods. “And a ‘Yay! Bobby is gone!’ cake that he jumped out of the center of.”
“And gift bags with little Jane and Teo magnetic dolls that stuck together.”
Cherry snorts. “That’s weird, Libby.”
“So true. Teo’s such a creeper.”
Jane smiles and looks out at the gym floor, where teachers are ushering off the football and cheerleading squads, and the principal is announcing the band. “You guys are sweet,” Jane says. “But Teo’s not in love with me. I don’t even know if he likes me. Maybe he had a crush on me once, in, like, middle school. But it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s always surrounded by other girls.”
“He’s a hot football player,” Cherry says. “What do you expect? You are so lucky. You’re going to be the first winner of Project Prom.”
I laugh. “Are there winners?”
Cherry nods. “And losers. But you’re right that you can’t just assume he’ll ask you. You’ve got to work for it. Wear something low cut tomorrow, and then maybe drop your pencil and bend over right in front of him, like they do in the movies. Stop giving me that look, Libby. I’m right about this. I’ll come over after school and help you pick the top, Jane.”
“Um.” Jane bites her lower lip. Cleavage and pencil drops are not for her. Mostly because she is not a porn star.
I turn to her. “Teo doesn’t play games, and he already likes you. Just act natural. You’ve got this.”
Cherry shrugs. “You can act natural. Or you can wear the slutty top and have a date to prom.”
I smile and pluck at my black tank top. “Is that what I’ve been doing wrong? I should just whip this off right now. But then…bra or no bra? Be honest.”
Cherry tilts her head like she is taking my question way too seriously. “Depends on the bra. Let me see it.”
“Definitely no bra,” someone behind me says.
And ugh. It’s Will Fitz, king of the conceited football players. He must have sat behind us after his rally time ended. His arm is draped around Mindy Simpson, who’s so obviously trying to pretend that Will isn’t talking to us. She flips her too shiny black hair over her shoulder and swipes a perfectly manicured finger over her phone.
My mom loves to talk about our inner beauty cups—cheesy, I know, but Mindy’s inner beauty cup is filled with moldy bread and black widows. Will’s is crawling with spiders too—maybe not the poisonous kind like Mindy’s, but definitely the hairy, gross ones.
“So what are we talking about?” Will leans forward like he’s in our conversation now, one corner of his lips raised in his signature you-may-worship-me smile.
I pretend to be interested in the band waving their brass instruments around.
But Cherry leans towards Will, her heart shaped lips and freckled cheeks raising into a smile that says she is beyond excited to be hanging out with the captain of the football team. “Prom. What else?”
“Elena wants you.” Will lifts his chin to indicate where Elena is sitting a few rows down, waving at Cherry.
“Oh.” Cherry’s face falls. “We’re supposed to talk about our history project, but right now? I’ll just get it over with and be right back.” She steps down the bleachers, dodging people and backpacks, leaving me alone with Will and Mindy and their spiders. Jane’s facing away from me, talking to someone I can’t see, and I start to turn toward her to show Will that we’re done here.
But Will’s never done. “Why are you pretending you’re going to prom? Isn’t that kind of messed up, stringing Cherry along?”
“I don’t know.” I stare past him and pretend to be thinking about his question. “I just woke up one morning and thought, ‘You know what would be really fun? Spending a bunch of money on a prom dress and ticket and everything and then not going.’”
He nods like I’m serious. “Yeah, I can see where you’d think that’d be fun. But come on. You and prom?” He chuckles to himself. “No. Just—no. That’ll be the day that I die.”
“Promise? Now I have to go.”
He laughs. “Good one. But I still don’t see it.” He stretches his hand out to me. “How about it, Bennet? Fifty bucks says there’s no way you’re going to prom.”
Mindy doesn’t even look up from her phone when she chimes in. “Bet more than fifty. It’s not like there’s any chance you’ll lose.”
Something prickly twists and turns inside me. But I can’t let Will know he’s gotten to me. I shake his hand and then make a big show of wiping it off on my jeans. “I hope Cherry comes back soon with her hand sanitizer.”
“That’s right. Wipe off all my boy cooties.” A strand of Will’s too long dark hair falls forward. “Easiest fifty bucks I’ve ever made.”
Will loves to make me feel small, and I hate myself for letting him.
I roll my eyes at him as if that’s a good comeback and turn to talk to Jane—but stop when I see she’s talking to Teo. So that’s why Will sat by us. He and Teo are cousins, even though that seems genetically impossible—since, you know, Teo’s actually nice. I watch my sister and Teo for a moment. He’s waving his hands too much as he talks, and her eyelashes are lowered, like she can’t look at him. But she’s got this happy glow about her, and I think it’s the first time in eight months that she’s not thinking about Bobby.
Will taps my shoulder. “Cherry’s back. You can sanitize your whole body now, in case the cooties spread.”
“If it’s not too late. I’ll probably be dead by morning.”
Will laughs way too loudly at that.
“Libby! Did you hear that?” Cherry squeezes her way back up the bleachers and plops down next to me. “You’re not even listening, are you? Jessica’s about to announce the prom theme! Tell Jane—oh!” She giggles. “Never mind.”
I glance at the gym floor, where Jessica Lim, our student body president, is holding the microphone. “Ok, everyone, this year’s prom theme is…” There are thumping sounds as she juggles the microphone to open an envelope. “An enchanted evening!”
There’s a pause, and then a roar as everyone starts talking at once.
“I love it!” Cherry beams. “Do you love it?”
“Yeah. It’s cute.” Honestly, I’m not really sure what it means, but at least it’s not something cheesy like Floating on the Wind like it was last year.
The bell rings while Jessica’s still talking, and everyone starts pouring out of the bleachers.
Will leans towards me and touches my shoulder. “Hey, can I ask you a favor?” His eyes have this soft look to them, like he really needs something.
I should walk away, but for some reason I stay. “What?”
Mindy tugs his arm. “Will, let’s go already. Enough with her.” She says “her” like I’m a piece of lint on her shirt that she wants to pluck off and throw away.
He winks at me before he turns to leave. It’s like it would kill him if he doesn’t get the last word.
I shove Will and Mindy out of my head and turn to Jane, who’s smiling as she watches Teo walk down the bleachers to join Will and Mindy.
“Tell us everything,” Cherry says. “Did he ask you to prom?”
“No.” A small smile plays on her lips. “It’s nothing like that, yet. But he’s nice.”
“He’ll ask you,” I say. Thinking about Jane with Teo almost washes away all the gross and hairy spiders Will left behind.
“He totally will. This is so exciting.” Cherry hugs herself. “We know the theme, and Jane practically has a date. That means Project Prom is on. Right, Libby?”
OK. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure before. But now, as I picture the look on Will’s face as he hands me my fifty bucks? “Oh, yeah. Project Prom is so on.”
Thanks for reading! You can find First Impressions here on Amazon. Comment below to let me know what you think!