cover image I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend

Cora Harrison, illus. by Susan Hellard, Delacorte, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-73940-5

Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall while Jane Austen grew up, had adventures, and went to balls? Or better yet, her most trusted friend and confidante? Harrison introduces readers to Austen via the chronicles of Jenny Cooper, Austen's "best friend" and an avid diarist. Jenny is sweet and observant, and Harrison evokes the time period in both the mannerisms and attitudes of her characters, as well as what historians know of Austen's life. Yet the diary format does not always lend itself well to plot development. Decorated with line drawings (ostensibly Jenny's) of clothing, people, etc., Jenny's lengthy and detailed internal monologues about a variety of events that take place over several months in 1791 tell more than they demonstrate through dialogue and interaction. The prose is light and accessible, but can be awkward, as in passages that try to convey urgency. Like anything to do with Austen, the promise of romance is never far: Jenny's intrigue for Capt. Thomas Williams is sparked early on, challenged by a flirtation with Jane's handsome brother Henry, and rekindled, of course, at a ball. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)