I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison (NY: Delacorte, 2010).
The novel starts out with a bang with Jenny Cooper, Jane Austen's cousin, having to save Jane from dying of a terrible fever while they're both practicially imprisoned at a horrifyingly grim boarding school. They end up back at Jane's country home, and Jenny feels very fortunate to be there. Her parents have died and her brother and his wife need the money that is supposed to go for Jenny's upkeep. Jenny keeps a journal to record all her feelings and all the happenings in the exciting Austen household, especially the antics of her witty cousin Jane. Soon enough, Jenny has fallen in love, but will a secret keep her from the happiness she deserves?
This is a lovely story in so many ways. Harrison researched Austen and the period extensively and weaves historical facts seamlessly into the fiction. Austen fans will recognize characters and situations that find their way into her novels. And of course it's wonderful to read about what Austen might have been like as a girl growing up in a large family of relatively poor means. Jenny's romance with the handsome Captain Thomas Williams is well done and fun to read, but even more fun is Jane's dramatizing of it, for she tends to be melodramatic.
Highly recommended for Austen lovers young and old. Fine ages 11 & up.
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