It is a truth uniersally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a journal must write all her secrets in it ...
When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits. At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship. So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man? But is that even possible? After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret. Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family. What’s a poor orphan girl to do?
In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters. Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane.
A quick note before I begin - the US edition above isn't out yet, but I decided to post both covers as they're both lovely and yet so different. Personally I like the US one, but I absolutely adore the UK cover and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it at Frankfurt (report here) and that's the cover I'll be rating at the end of my review.
Quite frankly, I don't think I would've read/bought this book if it weren't for the cover. I must confess that while being an admirer of Ms Austen's works, I'm not really the biggest Austen fan and I haven't re-re-read her works and I'm not all that familiar with her life story so this book gave me some insight. It's not really about Jane though, she's just a side character, but the main story is told mainly through the diary entries of Jenny Cooper, Jane's 16-year-old orphan friend who lives with them in Steventon.
The story takes place in 1791 and in the opening scene, Jenny commits a terrible offence by braving the streets of Southampton in the middle of the night in order to post a letter addressed to Jane's mother, informing her that Jane (aged 15) is terribly ill at boarding school (you can read about this here). Thus Jenny may have saved Jane's life, but this scandalous act has a great effect on Jenny's life later on, mainly because she met Captain Thomas Williams on that fateful night.
After that, Jenny and Jane were pulled out of that dreadful boarding school and went to live with the Austen family in Steventon. There Jenny meets all of Jane's numerous siblings (including the disabled brother George who is not allowed to live with the family), develops a crush or two, attends her first few balls in wonderful gowns, learns the language of the fan and falls head over heels in love with a dashing man ... There are a few twists and turns, but you know there's a happy ending in store. :)
This was a truly lovely and romantic little book and I rather enjoyed it. I had great fun reading about the life in the 18th century when the world was oh so different and this book sort of makes you want to experience it first hand, le sigh. While I enjoyed reading about Jenny's love troubles, I found myself far more touched by the sub-story of Jane's brother George and how Jenny and Jane tried to help him and didn't shun him just because he was disabled.
I quite enjoyed this book and I really can't fault it, but it just didn't amaze me. It was an incredibly and a very romantic read, but I felt I didn't get to know the characters well enough (perhaps that's due to the fact that everyone was so ... rigid back then?) and the writing could've been more flowerly or old-fashioned for a diary that was written in the 18th century.
What makes this book even more adorable are the oh so pretty illustrations that are featured all through the diary. They were meant to be Jenny's sketches of things that she talked about in her diary, but actually they were done by Susan Hellard and I thought they were the perfect addition to this lovely novel. I've posted a few examples below (click to enlarge) - aren't these just the cutest things ever? :)
I expect most people who will be reading this are fans of Austen's work and are probably wondering what this book has to do with her. Well, as it turns out, a lot of it is actually based on real events and people - if you want to know more, please read the author's note on what is fact what is fiction, but I have to say I found the book to be a wonderful mix of both.
All in all, I enjoyed this book and while I was not amazed by it, I'd still recommend it to all the Austen fans or to anyone who enjoys a lovely romantic read. Quite frankly, I think it's worth owning just because it's so darn cute! :)
plot: 3/5 | writing: 3/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover: 5/5