I’ve never completed an entire Jane Austen novel, though I am familiar with them and have seen a couple film adaptations. However, I do not need to have read every single one of her novels to know that Austen’s work is considered classic English literature, and is densely populated by white people.
Enter The Bennet Women, a Pride and Prejudice retelling just published in September 2021. EJ is a determined Black engineering student at Longbourn University, where her main focus is making her senior year her very best to ensure that she has access to a great job after graduation. She lives in Bennet House, the only all-women’s dorm, which is her sanctuary and feminist community. The book alternates between her perspective, including others: Jamie, her best friend; Tessa, another friend; and Will, a possible romantic prospect. The book follows their colorful adventures over the course of an academic year, complete with all the fun and sometimes heartbreaking shenanigans you’d expect to take place in college.
This new adult novel has all the things frequent readers of romance might enjoy: a slow burn relationship, enemies to lovers trope, and a lot of social events. I am personally not a fan of reading about famous or wealthy people, but those parts of the book were not overwhelming. The pacing was a bit on the slow side to keep me interested for long periods, but that might just be a testament to the nature of the contemporary romance genre.
Some things that I liked about the book:
-The Bennet Women centers BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters. Our main character is Black, her best friend is a newly out trans woman, another friend is Filipina, and the love interest is Asian. We love a cast of characters that represent a range of identities and cultures!
-This is a fun twist on classic romance writing. There is quite a bit of exposition mixed in with the narration that resulted in a cozy, rom-com feel. Also, the pop culture references are hilarious.
-The ending. I do not wish to spoil anything, but the happily ever after ending here is very traditional for the genre, but at the same time offers a pleasant twist!
I’m not familiar with Austen enough to comment on the execution of this book as a retelling, but as a modern romance it is lighthearted and fun. If you’re looking for a sweet read for the holiday season, The Bennet Women might be for you.