If you have yet to frolic in the Jane Austen universe, Pride tells the story of two lovers from contrasting walks of life as they move from casual curiosity, to full-blown hate, and finally to forever and ever love. This iteration brings us Zuri, a Haitian-Dominican who is proud of her heritage, her four sisters, and her neighbourhood. Opposite her is Darius, the youngest in a family of wealthy African Americans native to Washington, D.C. who recently relocated to a palace-like mansion on Zuri’s block, a neighbourhood that is quickly gentrifying in the wake of the Brooklyn cool aesthetic and rising property prices.

These two mix like oil and water: both see the other as judgmental and arrogant. While Zuri hates Darius’s self-satisfied attitude and inability to adapt to the ways of the block, Darius hates how Zuri’s provincial perspective boxes him into her preconceived stereotypes of privilege. Of course, hate quickly slides into love as both realise that they share something rare. In a world that does not value integrity, Zuri and Darius are both authentic individuals that fight for what they believe in.

“After diverse classics scandal, Pride is a welcome lesson on how to engage the white canon in productive ways.”

And that’s just the problem. While Zuri values her people and fights against the growth of gentrification, a process to which Darius’s family is making a significant contribution, Darius’s cause is that he should not be stereotyped for being filthy rich. Thoroughly upstaged, Darius is a tragically unperceptive character who never makes any real attempt to challenge his view of the world. In a novel where Zuri and her family are ultimately bought out of their own neighbourhood, the issue of privilege is too high-stakes to be slid under an evasive rug of star-crossed love and happily ever after.

Though these tensions leave a persisting sour taste that makes it difficult to ride off into the happily ever after an Austen-inspired story demands, it must be said that they are native to Austen’s original. In Pride and Prejudice, we are made to accept that the fiery Elizabeth will ultimately fall for the constipated Mr. Darcy. It is also this classist original that pretends as if these characters have some sort of equivalence on the grand scale of things, as if class isn’t a matter of material oppression that cannot be bandaged over with love.

But don’t underestimate Pride’s power: it is so enchanting that it makes it near-impossible not to turn the blindest of eyes. It truly wonderful to see Black love poured into a timeless story of star-crossed love thriving against all odds. In spite of the weighty social issues that come with the territory, Pride is a deeply representative retelling that foregrounds Black people’s right to exist in a canon that has always pretended they do not. While Austen paints a universe of sprawling 19th-century estates nourished on invisible fortunes and expects us to believe these bear no relation to the lucrative transatlantic slave trade, Ibi Zoboi is out to right these literary wrongs.

“Subtitled “A Pride and Prejudice Remix”, Pride makes an allegedly universal story actually universal.”

From the original’s classism to its silences on slavery, this novel gently gestures to Austen’s prejudices in a fun, fresh way. After the diverse classics scandal, Pride is a welcome lesson on how to engage the white canon in productive ways. In taking on the queen of what was nineteenth-century chick-lit genre fiction become the face of classic literature, Pride is also a testament to the role genre fiction can play in normalising Black stories, foregrounding Black joy, and moving away from the media’s appetite for Black pain.

Known for the 2017 National Book Award Finalist American Street, Zoboi is a pioneering Haiti-American YA author breaking down the barriers around who gets to be represented in literature. In Why I Am No Longer Talking to Black People About Race, Renni Eddo-Lodge briefly talks about how literature’s biggest stories change in the hands of Black re-tellers. A non-white Hermoine breathes life into the story of the hard-working model minority who must navigate the racialised language of blood purity. In Pride, the political history of Black love rejuvenates the idea that is truly possible to find a true connection across a gulf of class-based difference. Subtitled “A Pride and Prejudice Remix,” Pride makes an allegedly universal story actually universal.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her @verybookishjane on Twitter.

IBI ZOBOI was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her YA novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and and her debut middle grade novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, was a New York Times bestseller. Her most recent bestseller, Punching the Air, is a YA novel-in-verse, co-authored by prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five. You can find her on her website.

“A Pride and Prejudice Remix” that packs a punchPride by Ibi Zoboi
Published by Balzer + Bray on 18 Sep 2018
Genres: Urban, Romance, YA, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, Retelling
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Buy on New Beacon Books
Goodreads
four-stars

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood from becoming unrecognisable. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all. In a timely update of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skilfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.