Awwww, you guys, this is one of those times where I had super low expectations, because of ideas in my head. I expected this to be super silly, more of a guilty pleasure than anything else. Well, you know what, there is zero guilt in the pleasure I found in The Trouble with Flirting. LaZebnik's loose Mansfield Park adaptation achieves a real teen feel, and is sweet and funny on top of that.
First, I have to talk about the adaptation, being the Jane Austen fangirl that I am. Now, for all that I love Dear Jane, Mansfield Park is a hot mess. Fanny Price is one of the most boring, passive heroines in fiction, the plot line is way too melodramatic with all of the couple-swapping and infidelity, and, in the end, Fanny marries her cousin. So, as you may imagine, I was a bit hesitant to buy into an adaptation for teens. However, I was totally game, because, if LaZebnik botched it, I wasn't going to be offended like I would be with Austen's other novels.
LaZebnik not only does Mansfield Park justice; she greatly improves on it. Now, I'm not going to argue that LaZebnik's writing is more likely to withstand the test of time, but her characters have so much more life and more appeal. I'm really impressed with the way LaZebnik has arranged Mansfield Park into such a different setting, a summer camp for theater students at Mansfield College. She stays true to the romantic entanglements that are at the heart of Mansfield Park, the petty jealousies, the rampant flirting, and the betrayals.
Now, I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't, but I do have to make vague reference to my very favorite aspect of her modern retelling. LaZebnik starts out with all of the characters very true to their Austenite predecessors, but, as the novel progresses, she brings out the real people underneath the facades. I find this doubly delightful, both because it adds depths to the cast of Mansfield Park and because it's a reference to Jane Austen's most popular novel, originally titled First Impressions. The Trouble with Flirting is very much a study in not judging people too harshly off of first impressions, of the importance of looking more deeply into someone's behavior.
As the cover suggests, The Trouble with Flirting does focus almost entirely on romance. There are some sweet friendships, but not much time is spent on those. If you're not all about the romance, this will probably not be your thing. LaZebnik does a great job with the romance, though, creating real bonds between characters, staying away from instalove, and looking into the motivations for characters' behavior.
Also wonderful is how sex-positive The Trouble with Flirting is. Now, it's not graphic, and, actually, I'm not sure if any of them did have sex, but they might have. Franny could easily have been judgmental of Marie, a girl cheating on her boyfriend, or at least trying to, but there's no condemnation in her. Is she thrilled about it? No, but she isn't rude either. She has nothing bad to say about the switching from relationship to relationship that the kids are doing at camp. In fact, she thinks it's very natural, and has no problem with people hooking up, even if it's just for fun. Even better, despite the competition for the small crop of straight guys at the theater camp, the girls remain minimally catty throughout.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The one thing that left me a bit disappointed is the lack of theater. Yes, there are some scenes devoted to theater, but it receives minimal screen time. I would have liked the importance of acting in their lives to be a little more obvious. The acting serves solely as a backdrop to the flirting and as yet another reference to Mansfield Park, in which the play performed did serve as an excuse for flagrant flirting.
The Final Verdict:
LaZebnik's retelling of The Trouble with Flirting charmed me utterly, and does a brilliant job retelling Jane Austen's stodgiest novel for a young adult audience. This is a wonderful read if you're looking for something light-hearted, funny, and uplifting.