Kim’s Review of The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik

ttwfIt’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  You can go so far as to say that it’s my least favorite of all of her works.  It is mainly due to the fact that in my eyes Fanny Price is too meek, too quiet, and so willing to just sit in the wings and wait for what she wants instead of going after it on her own.  My motto in life is “life is what you make of it.”  You have to go after the things you want. If you expect everything to come to you…..well that’s just lazy.

I’m always interested in hearing about modern adaptations of Mansfield Park because I’m so curious to see what writers do with Fanny’s character.  It’s difficult to make introverted characters interesting and appealing…..especially for the YA crowd.  When I heard Claire LaZebnik had written an adaptation, The Trouble With Flirting, I was instantly interested.  Her YA adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (Epic Fail) had me seriously impressed with how she seamlessly transitioned the story from classic literature to a youthful adaptation. (Check out her guest post on the joys and perils of adapting Austen) Knowing all of this I bet you’re asking yourself, “Why did she read this if she dislikes the novel it’s based on?”  I knew that LaZebnik had made some significant changes to the story and the characters.  It’s the mysterious of the unknown changes that had me totally willing to give it a shot.

Franny Pearson, like most teenagers, begrudgingly takes a summer job in order to earn a little spending money.  She takes a job helping her aunt, the costume designer for the prestigious Mansfield Summer Theater Program.  Although she must spend most of her time behind a sewing machine, she gets to be in close proximity to her crush, Alex Braverman.  Alex, on the other hand, barely acknowledges her existence, and is more interested in the girl in the leading role, Isabella.  Although this hurts Franny, she becomes distracted by Harry Cartwright, a notorious flirt in the program.  As she becomes more involved with Harry, Franny’s life becomes more complicated as Alex suddenly becomes much more interested in her than he was before.  Was this flirting more trouble than it was worth?

I feel that I first must say THANK YOU CLAIRE LAZEBNIK FOR MAKING MANSFIELD PARK INTERESTING (and for giving Franny some backbone!)  I’m seriously so surprised at how hooked I was with The Trouble With Flirting.  LaZebnik’s writing is superb, witty, sharp,  funny, touching, and relatable.  LaZebnik’s Franny is a true accomplishment.  She has all of the characteristics that I wish Fanny Price had.  Austen purists will probably have a problem with the changes LaZebnik made, but I think that in today’s modern world a woman isn’t frowned upon for going after what she wants (even if what she wants is a man).  LaZebnik’s changes make sense and make Franny more interesting and appealing to a younger audience.

Where LaZebnik truly shines as a writer is definitely in her dialogue.  The witty banter between Harry and Franny had me laughing out loud fairly frequently.  Their attraction to each other quite literally jumps off the pages and hooks you.  You truly get a sense of the characters’ emotions and feelings through the dialogue.  The stress and uneasiness in Alex and Isabella’s relationship is apparent as are the self-confidence issues that Isabella and Julia feel; the strained relationships between Franny and her Aunt Amelia and Marie and her sometimes boyfriends James are all examples of this.

I truly think teens will enjoy this adaptation.  The similarities to life at that age are abundantly clear.  All the angst over who likes who, all the jealousy of the girl who gets the guy you want, the depression over losing your first love, the spark of new friendships and relationships….it’s all there.  If you haven’t yet read any of LaZebnik’s books I suggest you give them a try.  Her ability to get into the teenage mind is simply uncanny.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Trouble With Flirting by Claire LaZebnik
HarperTeen (2013)
Paperback: 313 pages
ISBN: 9780061921278

Special thanks to HarperTeen for my review copy!

The Joys and Perils of Adapting Austen by Claire LaZebnik, author of The Trouble With Flirting

I’m super happy to have author Claire LaZebnik on the blog today.  Claire is the author of several YA, women’s literature, and parenting books.  I had the pleasure of reading her first YA book Epic Faila modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, back in late 2011 and remember being so impressed with her ability to keep Austen’s works fresh and alive for a new audience.  Claire’s latest book, The Trouble With Flirting, is a modern adaptation of Mansfield Park.  Please join me in welcoming her as she discusses the joys and perils of adapting Jane Austen!

efI’ve had the great honor and pleasure of loosely adapting and modernizing three Austen novels for a young adult readership. I found different challenges in each book—plot twists or character traits that felt out-of-place in today’s world, and which I had to reimagine—but the romances and the emotions ring as true today as they ever did. (Which makes me think of Elizabeth Bennet’s line about Darcy: “In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was.” Applies to human nature, too.)

Epic Fail is my update of Pride and Prejudice: I set it at a Los Angeles high school, and most of it felt right at home there. Take for example Lizzie Bennet’s refusal to swoon over Darcy like the other girls, just because he’s rich and attractive, a stance which leads her instead to believe the worst about him.

Jumping to unfair conclusions about someone you barely know? Yeah, I think we can all admit to doing that at least once or a thousand times back in high school.

Equally relatable is Elizabeth’s horror when her family embarrasses her out in public. We’ve all been there. There’s a reason we used to jump quickly in the car when our mother or father came to pick us up—we were hoping to close the door before they could actually say anything our friends might hear.

But some parts of P&P didn’t update so well. The first was the horror of Wickham and Lydia’s running away together. Let’s face it: an unmarried young man and young woman spending time alone (presumably having sex) isn’t quite the earthshattering event it was back in Austen’s day. I had to find something sleazy and disturbing and high school appropriate for Wickham to do that wasn’t that. My other challenge was finding a way to make Darcy a target of excessive attention and fawning: we don’t have the same kind of class system in America now that England did in the early 19th century.

In the end, I solved both problems at once: I realized that in modern-day Los Angeles, no one gets fawned on (or hounded) as much as celebrities and their children. The Darcy character became the son of two movie stars, and the Wickham character became someone determined to exploit that family’s fame—in some very icky ways.

ttwfWhen I turned my attention to Mansfield Park, I found a very different challenge. The storyline totally worked in today’s world—what teenage girl  hasn’t at some point felt overlooked and underappreciated by the object of her affection?—especially when I set it at a summer acting program where the main character has to work while everyone else gets to act and play.

But while Elizabeth Bennet feels very much like a girl who would be at home in today’s world, Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price most decidedly does not. She’s long-suffering, quiet, patient, faithful, weak, devout . . .

Yawn.

I’m sorry—I do honestly love little Fanny. Whenever I reread the novel, I root for her to be noticed and appreciated with every fiber of my being, and I wanted my own readers to feel equally passionate about my Franny (I added an “r”).  But for that to happen, I felt like I had to make some changes.

The original Fanny lived in a world where a poor girl’s only power came in attracting the right suitors and rejecting the wrong ones. I think we can all agree that times have—thankfully—changed. In my novel, Franny is very much a modern woman: strong, funny, self-sufficient, and capable of forging her own destiny.

What I didn’t realize was that changing her personality would also force me to alter the ending of my novel, which originally followed Austen’s closely. I don’t want to ruin The Trouble with Flirting for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I’ll just say that I couldn’t let Franny end up with someone who took too long to appreciate her.

Most recently, I finished up my third Austen-based YA novel, a tribute to Persuasion, tentatively titled The Last Best Kiss (due out from HarperTeen in summer, 2014). Ironically, this wistful novel about regret and lost youth was in many ways the easiest Austen to translate into today’s high school world. After all, who feels more pressure from her peers to go out with the “right” kind of guy than a teenager? And, while Anne Elliot may, like Fanny Price, watch helplessly from the sidelines as the man she loves chases after someone else, she’s also a very smart woman with a good head in a crisis. She actively redeems herself, while Fanny just waits. And waits . . . So that, too, made this adaptation easier than the previous one.

It’s been fascinating to see which aspects of Austen’s novels transcend time and which ones don’t. Communication has changed drastically in the last two hundred years: we no longer have to wait days for precious information. We entertain ourselves differently: no more balls, with their elaborate rules and customs; instead we group ourselves around a computer and watch YouTube videos. We don’t defer to our “superiors” in wealth and class—in fact, we’ll fight anyone who would even dare to call himself our superior. And women’s control over their destinies is no longer limited to whom they choose to marry.

But when it comes to our emotional lives—to the ways in which we fall in love, experience regret, feel embarrassed and also cherished by our families, and nurture hope for our futures—in those, we are in essentials, very much what we ever were.

DSC_0395_2Author Bio:

Claire LaZebnik has written two novels for HarperTeen, Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting, with a third (tentatively titled The Last Best Kiss) due out summer 2014. She has also written five novels for adults, including Knitting under the Influence and The Smart One and the Pretty One. With Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel, she co-wrote the nonfiction books Overcoming Autism and Growing up on the Spectrum. She contributed to an anthology play called Motherhood Out Loud, and has been published in The New York Times, Self, Vogue and other magazines. She currently lives in the Pacific Palisades with her husband Rob, who’s a co-executive producer for The Simpsons, and their four kids. Her website is www.clairelazebnik.com.