I don’t know why I keep reading YA contemporary retellings of Jane Austen’s novels. Or why the ones I always seem to read are retellings of Mansfield Park, my least favorite of her novels. It’s like I see “Jane Austen retelling” and hope that someone will finally do it justice. But instead, they just make me angry. Someone, please remind me to stop reading them.
After Edie Price’s mom dies, she’s forced to move to Mansfield and live with her relatives, who are wealthy suburbanites. But Edie doesn’t want to get distracted by the drama of cute boys and expensive makeovers. Until she finds herself drawn to two Mansfield boys: Sebastian, her childhood best friend and first love, and Henry, the local bad boy and player. Caught between her emotions, Edie worries that someone’s heart is going to get broken. She’s determined it won’t be hers.
Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins is actually a decent modern YA retelling of Mansfield Park. The book includes a lot of relationship drama and characters making awful choices. Most of the characters follow the same personality as the original with Edie (Fanny) being super passive, Sebastian (Edmund) being a wimp, and the Crawfords being the worst. For the most part, the story follows similar plot and outcomes as the classic story.
My biggest problem with this book is how focused all of the characters are on sex. I can understand if the Crawfords and maybe Tom and Maria are, but it turns super awkward when Edie—who had barely even kissed a boy—has multiple sex dreams and is sexually frustrated as she pines over Sebastian. This is not the goody two-shoes Fanny Price who uses her brain when the other characters don’t.
There’s a moment where I thought this book was going to break the mold of YA sex tropes because Edie actually thinks about what she’s about to do before she does it and stops because she’s not ready. But then it just disappoints because (Highlight for spoiler) a chapter later she gives in and sleeps with Henry. Only to break up with him the next day to chase after Sebastian because she realizes she’s in love with him. Like what even. Why are you sleeping with people you aren’t in love with?)
Also, I’m tired of the whole let’s-have-sex-in-weird-places thing. Like sleeping with someone on the roof of an old church that is described as dirty is not romantic or comfortable. Neither is the public beach. I don’t know why it’s a thing for YA characters to sleep together in places that aren’t a bedroom, but it happens a lot. Please stop.
I also have a problem with the changes the author made to the end of the story. For one, she makes Edie come across as the stupidest character. She completely betrays who she is and what her mother taught her to chase after two boys that frankly deserve better than her. She’s a jerk to her best friend and thinks herself better than her cousins and Emma Crawford, even though she’s not. I know that Fanny isn’t the most likeable or active character from Jane Austen’s novels, but man, she is not supposed to be annoying. And Edie was annoying.
I also don’t like that Henry Crawford is written to be the good guy while Sebastian is an indecisive pushover. Yeah, Edmund Bertram is my least favorite Austen hero because he just lets things happen to him, but this book makes me believe Edie is making the wrong choice when she chooses Sebastian over Henry. In turn, Henry is seen as this understanding bad boy who quotes Shakespeare (Stop. Writing. Bad. Boys. Who. Also. Like. Literature.) and asks for consent. There is no moment where Henry betrays her and has a fling with Maria, which I was waiting to happen. Instead, Henry is the good boy while Edie and Maria are painted as the bad girls.
This book, while if follows the plot of Mansfield Park fairly well, could have been better. I understand changing some aspects to fit with the modern setting, but if you’re going to do that, you might as well have Edie choose neither Henry nor Sebastian but to focus on her education like she stated at the beginning of the book. Less focus on sex and relationships and more on Edie finding herself through a new environment would have made this story the best Mansfield Park retelling I’ve read.
~I checked out a copy of Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins from my local library and chose to write this review/rant. All opinions are my own.~