As a long-time fan of all things Jane Austen, I was delighted to find I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison at my local library.
After fifteen-year-old Jenny Cooper and her cousin Jane Austen are rescued from an oppressive boarding school, Jenny moves into the Austen family home. Living with the Austens opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Jenny, which she details in the pages of her "secret diary."
Each entry gives the reader a glimpse into the home life of Jane Austen. Jenny, an orphan, appreciates the everyday activities of living with a family, even if she is often confused about the behaviors of the family.
The most interesting stories, of course, involve glimpses into mind of a sixteen-year-old Jane Austen, who is vivacious, fiercely independent, bold, smart, and oftentimes dramatic as she observes the world around her, makes sarcastic comments about love and marriage, and turns everything into a novel.
The heart of the story, however, is Jenny's introduction to a world of beautiful dresses, fancy balls, and the rules that come along with attracting and interacting with the opposite sex. The possibility of love and marriage and a happily ever after is clear from the beginning, but exactly what you hope for in a Jane Austen novel (even if Jane isn't the one writing it).
There were so many things that I liked about this book, starting with Jenny's diary, which included drawings of dresses, people, and even hairstyles that made me feel like I had stepped back in time to 1791, as well as hand-written snippets of stories Jane had written. Cora Harrison clearly researched the topic and did such an amazing job mixing true events with fiction. I walked away feeling a deeper connection to an author I've enjoyed for so long.
What a lovely, heartwarming story.
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