Book Ramblings: Enthusiasm

EnthusiasmEnthusiasm by Polly Shulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julie’s accustomed to being swept up in her best friend Ashleigh’s crazes. Candy making, reptiles, juggling and King Arthur have all had their time. Now, however, Ashleigh’s latest craze is moving into Julie’s territory–that of Jane Austen. Having finally read Pride and Prejudice, Julie’s favorite book, Ashleigh is determined to reenact the book. She changes how she speaks and how she dresses, but that is not enough. No, Ashleigh must find her Mr. Darcy and Julie must find her Mr. Bingley. Julia is horrified. Sophomore year is about to begin and there’s no way Ashleigh is going to escape humiliation. That’s before Ashleigh comes up with a plan to crash a ball at Forefield Academy, an all boy’s school.

While visiting her father and stepmother, Julie confides her worries about the whole Austen infatuation to her friend Samantha. Sam pushes Julie to make a compromise to go to the dance only if Ashleigh forgoes the strange clothes at school. They solve the problem of clothes by going through the acquisitions for the artsy shop Julie’s mom runs. Ashleigh insists on dance practices, and to Julie’s surprise her mom teaches them. Transportation gets provided by Sam’s college brother Zach. Now there’s just the problem of not having tickets and a staff member who refuses to let them in.

The girls are rescued by the chivalric action of one C. Grandison Parr and his roommate Ned. They claim the girls are there with them, foiling the staff member. The dance at Forefield is nothing like the dances of public school or what is found at clubs, at least not at the start. Everything begins with a quadrille and other old fashioned dances. Most of the students and their escorts hover, but Ashleigh, Julie, Parr and Ned take the floor.

After a wonderful evening only slightly marred by a forward Forefield student and some embarrassment, Julie heads home with Ashleigh. Julie’s convinced Parr might like her at least a little, but the next morning’s events reveal that Ashleigh is smitten with Parr and thinks he likes her. Ashleigh is also convinced Ned and Julie are a couple.

Julie struggles with keeping her crush secret from her best friend, who lives a tree branch away from her. Then her dad and stepmother start pressuring her to pick up more extracurriculars and improve her grades for college. Her mom is struggling to make enough money to sustain them even with the alimony. Her friends cajole her into trying out for a play at Forefield as they need outside students for the girls’ parts. A mysterious poem shows up at Julie and Ashleigh’s tree.

Enthusiasm is a novel with enjoyable, quirky characters who love music, writing and literature. Julie’s battle with being the overwhelmed friend and over-assessed stepdaughter is well played. Ashleigh’s enthusiasm is exhausting and contagious while Ned is the supportive, mischievous friend everyone should want. The sometimes unknowable Parr is adorable. The Austen references are enjoyable. The misunderstandings, rumors and conclusion echo Austen’s plots in a way that made me smile.

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