In a modern spin on Mansfield Park, Watson’s debut blends Austen with a dash of Shakespeare, all in contemporary Chicago.
Sixteen-year-old Finley Price, “half-Brazilian, half-Irish,” has found a sanctuary with her wealthy white godparents and their son, the Bertrams, after escaping her abusive mother. She is hyperaware of her perceived debt to the Bertrams and is determined to avoid being an imposition and to give back as much as she possibly can. Ever protective Oliver Bertram, however, is consistently encouraging her to be bold and embrace life. When white sibling Hollywood teen stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move in with their aunt and uncle next door the homeostasis of the Bertram home is disrupted. Finley must learn to speak up for herself to heal past wounds and move forward to achieve her dreams. The third-person narration shifts focus between Oliver and Finley, giving insight into the motives of each, including their unspoken affection for each other, which simmers throughout the novel. Austen’s Regency plot fits well among contemporary teens trying to define their own values and ambitions away from family obligations, expectations, and psychological baggage. Watson avoids the satire of the original, though, as this Finley and indeed all the characters seem to be entirely in earnest.
A commendable adaptation of a 200-year-old tale made fresh for a 21st-century audience. (Fiction. 14-18)