Time for a Jane Austen retelling!
In Pride by Ibi Zoboi, when a rich family renovates the home across the street, Bushwick native Zuri Benitez along with her sisters are desperate to who their new neighbors will be. As luck would have it, the sons happen to be not only rich, but also handsome. Zuri’s sister Janae immediately starts to fall for Ainsley, but Zuri isn’t sure about either him or his brother Darius. She struggles with what their arrival means for both herself, and for her entire neighborhood.
I knew pretty much what to expect from the plot, as I have read/seen several versions of Pride and Prejudice before reading this one. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this translated to the modern New York City setting. Issues of class differences are a well-established theme in Austen’s novels, and obviously are still a part of life today, especially in cities. Gentrification is even more at the forefront in Zoboi’s version of this story than ever, as the arrival of the rich Darcy family has lasting ramifications for the less-well-off Benitez family.
The interpersonal drama that occurs between Zuri, Darius, Ainsley, Janae, and Warren is familiar to those who know the original, but it works so well here in high school. Texts replace letters, block parties replace formal dances, and college tours replace visits to manor houses; however, the emotions and gossip remains the same at heart.
Zuri is smart and opinionated, but not entirely welcome to change that could hurt her family. She’s less supportive of her sister’s relationship in this book as opposed to in Austen’s, but—while a bit frustrating—does allow her to have some excellent character development in regards to overcoming her ingrained (though rather justified) prejudice against the rich and privileged. She seems more indecisive than Elizabeth, seeming to change her mind a few times in a very teenager-ish way. On the other hand, I might have been bothered more by this since I know the source material so well.
As for Darius, he retains many of Darcy’s original characteristics—social awkwardness, arrogance, love for his family—but is given more opportunity for “on-screen” development. We see his efforts to change and understand where Zuri comes from, rather than most of that happening out of sight in Austen’s. This, I feel, can only be a good thing, and I quite enjoyed watching him grow, and watching Zuri get to know him.
The other characters are great and quite loyal to their Austenian counterparts, but modernized in fun ways. Janae is the first in the Benitez family to go to college; Colin is their landlady’s son who is set to inherit the building; and the other Benitez siblings are flirty, selfie-obsessed teens. All in all, the supporting cast is great fun.
In the end, Ibi Zoboi’s Pride is a well done update of the classic. The gossip and drama stays true, but have a modern twist that both celebrates the original and showcases how the themes—such as class differences, gentrification, and overcoming unfair first impressions—remain relevant and universal today. However, Zoboi makes the cast more diverse, and the narrative shines with pride for Zuri’s Afro-Latino roots. It’s not a perfect book, but is still entertaining.
Overall rating: 8/10