I’m a sucker for all things Pride and Prejudice and thankfully have good friends who know this and lend me their copies of the latest P&P retellings before they’ve even read it…
And you know, this was a pretty excellent retelling. But not my new favorite.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi takes Pride and Prejudice, modernizes it, and re-imagines it in a hood in Brooklyn. 17-year-old Zuri Benitez is proud of her Afro-Latino heritage, her large family, and her corner of the world. But the world around her is changing. When the house across the street gets bulldozed and rebuilt into a McMansion by the wealthy Darcy family, Zuri views the snobbish Darius Darcy as everything wrong with the change. But as she begins applying for college and experiencing the world outside of her hood, Zuri’s opinions shift as she grapples with what really makes a place home.
The author does a good job translating the socioeconomic realities of Pride and Prejudice into a modern setting with Pride. The 5 Benitez sisters, the landlady’s nephew Colin who will inherit the place, the street savvy Warren with his smooth talking ways, all convert easily to this new world.
Pride also holds its own with interspersed spoken word poetry and a deeply poetic (okay, often over-the-top) writing style.
However…Zuri Benitez is a really annoying character. She has a chip on her shoulder and it is firmly embedded in her personality. While the plot uses her naive confidence to create some depth and character change, it prevented me from liking her as a character. And 300 pages adds up when you cannot stand the main character. Zuri’s world may expand throughout the story but she never loses her pride, and unfortunately pride is a stand-in here for judgmentalism and general rudeness.
But as much as Zuri doesn’t change, we get even less form the purported Mr. Darcy of the piece, Darius Darcy. In fact, the reader gets basically nothing from Darius. I guess that is the reason the author drops “Prejudice” from the title. He is a part – but only one part – of Zuri’s discovery of the world outside her hood. But he doesn’t change. We get glimpses of deeper personality, like the reason his family moved in the first place, but then Zuri intrudes again. This is her story and her life. Which in some regard, I applaud. But this is also a Pride and Prejudice retelling, excuse me, “remix.” You don’t just drop the character who arguably goes through the most change.
This book reaches for something great and brushes it. I really liked where the author was going. Unfortunately, I don’t think she makes it. The characters need to finish their character change. Otherwise, you’re leaving the reader with a character only slightly less judgmental and unlikable than when we met her. Which, of course, might be all part of some greater, meta-theme I’m totally missing. I’ll keep an open mind. I just feel like this could have been the next Pride and Prejudice and because it dared so greatly, it also feels extra painful that it misses so greatly.