Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy of this title from the publisher at ALA Annual 2018.
“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.”
Zuri Benitez is an Afro-Latinx soon-to-be-senior from Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighbourhood. She is looking forward to a summer spent with her sister Janae, who is about to return from her first year of college, even though it will be tight quarters with five Benitez sisters packed into one oversize bedroom in their old apartment. But everything changes when the Darcy family moves into the newly built mini-mansion across the street, heralding the gentrification of Zuri’s beloved neighbourhood. Zuri dreams of going to college, and then coming back to serve her community, but will there be anything left of it by then? The wealthy, black Darcys don’t really fit into the hood, and to Zuri their money represents everything that is slowly destroying her piece of the world. But Janae falls hard for Ainsley, even as Zuri gets off to a bad start with his younger brother Darius. She would much rather spend her time with Warren, a boy from the neighbourhood who gets where she is coming from, but also attends an elite secondary school, suggesting he has a bright future ahead of him. But it is Warren’s past that she should really be concerned about, and it is Darius who seems to hold the key to that story.
Ibi Zoboi’s modernization of Pride and Prejudice is remixed for the present day, set in gentrifying Brooklyn where the old Afro-Latinx community is slowly being pushed out by new money. The story is told from Zuri’s first person perspective, but also incorporates her poetry, which she uses to work through her feelings about everything from boys to college to the changing landscape of her beloved Bushwick. Text messages serve the function that letters take in P&P, but without quite achieving the same impact. The theme of class remains strong, but set into the modern context of wealth disparity, which allows Zoboi to explore many of the same dynamics that are at play in Austen’s original novel. Zuri and Darius come from fundamentally different upbringings, with necessarily divergent scopes and views of the world. But as Darius settles into Brooklyn, and Zuri’s world begins to expand as she considers college, and leaving her neighbourhood for the first time, the gap between them begins to narrow.
One of the striking things about Jane Austen’s novels is her sharp eye for characterization—and sometimes caricature. Zoboi takes a somewhat softer approach to her characters, few of whom are as harshly delineated as their Austenian counterparts. Zuri’s parents, for example, are decidedly in love, and while Mama Benitez can still be a source of embarrassment, there is a respect between the parents that does not exist between the original Bennets. And Carrie, who parallels Caroline Bingley, shows a softer side in the end when she helps protect Zuri’s sister Layla from Warren’s predations. Part of this is likely related to Zoboi’s strong community theme for Pride. She is depicting the positive sides of Zuri’s Bushwick, and a big part of that is the way the people support and look out for one another. She freely loosens the relationship to the source material in service of this theme. Madrina, for example, is not an exact analogue to anyone from Pride and Prejudice. She has aspects of Aunt Gardener, but she also in some ways represents Mr. Bennet and the entail of Longbourn, since she is the owner of the building Zuri’s family has lived in her entire life. Zoboi strikes the right balance between the fun of recognizing the source material, and the need to tell her own story.
If Zoboi’s characters aren’t quite as sharp as Austen’s, her depiction of place is stronger. Elizabeth deeply feels the future potential loss of Longbourn to the entail, but Austen doesn’t manage to depict it quite as clearly as Zoboi articulates Zuri’s feelings about the slow death of her neighbourhood. Far from disturbing her rest, the ubiquitous sirens lull her to sleep at night. Block parties and gatherings on stoops or at corner bodegas are the thrumming heartbeat of the community, but that beat is getting weaker and quieter every year. In this sense, it is actually Bushwick that is the most clearly drawn character in Pride, which is perhaps fitting giving the theme of community that ties the novel together.