Billed as a retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility but reading more like “sisters on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” this potentially buoyant comic novel sinks under the weight of its unwieldy high concept.
Dad’s departure, leaving Mom to cope on a small salary without child support, turned Gabby, 17, into a grumpily dutiful misanthrope who’s given up on love. She helps at home, works a miserable job and studies hard, then vents her frustrations on her irresponsible sister and faithful, torch-bearing Mule. Hiding a secret, Gabby repeatedly rejects overtures from handsome, wealthy Prentiss, who’s gone out of his way to help her family. At the other pole of emotional dysfunction, immature and self-centered Daphne, 15, carries her fantasies of finding true love with a boy she’s barely met to scary extremes. Ziegler’s affectionate portrait of small-town Texas life and sharply observed secondary characters, such as Sheri who “always gave compliments as if she were complaining,” bring the story to intermittent life. With their intense emotions permanently set to 11, though, the exasperating sisters have little in common with Elinor and Marianne. Austen’s attention, humor and insight weren’t given to deep emotions in themselves, but to how we govern them—and what happens when we don’t.
Readers are advised to stick to the original. (Fiction. 12 & up)