Enthusiasm, Polly Shulman (Alternative title for my post: This is how it’s done.)

Synopsis:  Julie has a very enthusiastic best friend, Ashleigh– when she gets into something, she is immersed in the topic. And her new obsession? Jane Austen.

Ashleigh decides to crash the Forefield (boys boarding school) dance so that she can land her Darcy and Julie can get her Bingley. (Julie= not thrilled.)  BUT Julie’s crush (aka”The Mysterious Stranger”, hereby known as Grandison “Parr”) covers for them and says he and Ned, his roommate, are their dates. Each girl dances with Parr and Ned a few times each, and there’s definite potential for double dates later .

The next morning, Ashleigh is rambling about “her Darcy”. Julie figures out too late that Ashleigh has a crush on Parr. It’s shocking, since Ned clearly admired Ash’s enthusiasm. The events that pointed to Parr liking Julie (he ran all over the school to find her a ginger ale, dancing together, chased off the school’s womanizer, flirtatious comments) were read differently by Ashleigh (he dragged her and Ned all around the school getting ginger ale, he danced the first and last dance with her, he wrote his email on her hand– we won’t mention Ash dragged him to dance and she offered her hand). Julie second guesses her evening, but won’t get in the way of Ashleigh… other than saying she doesn’t Like Ned, please don’t try to match-make.

So, Julie’s in a lot of inner turmoil because of Parr/Ashleigh/Ned, her mom has some financial trouble, and her stepmom and her dad are complete drama all the time.  And, Ashleigh has new scheme to get closer to the boys: the Forefield musical, which Parr and Ned are heavily involved in as the lyricist and musical director, respectively.  They get cast in  Midwinter Insomnia  (Midsummer Night’s Dream  reinterpretation). Julie has a small part and gets to observe and hang out with Parr, who is playing opposite their friend Yolanda. (Ash is super jealous).

Meanwhile, Julie becomes a boy magnet. She gets a chocolate turkey on Thanksgiving,  a kid from her English class is head-over-heels (but let’s just call him the “Mr. Collins” of this book),  and she gets her first kiss (non-romantic) from the hottie-next-door (dad’s neighbor) on her upsetting 16th birthday.  There was also a  sonnet left on the tree between her and Ashleigh’s house.  She thinks the poem is by Parr but doesn’t know if it was written for her or Ash.  Later that month, Parr is at “the tree” in the middle of a snowy night. Julie invites him up so he doesn’t freeze to death.  It was pretty innocent encounter: no kissing, fully clothed, some cuddles. He writes her a quick little poem before he leaves in the morning– same handwriting as the sonnet. (Confirmed identity, FTW!)

The play is successful, and Parr gives Julie flowers on closing night (and Ned gives flowers to Ash). Ashleigh panics  because Ned kissed her and she really likes him, but thought (despite Julie’s protests) that she would ruin Julie’s chances with him. Everyone’s conscience is cleared to like and date whomever they choose, and Julie and Parr finally start dating.

Bookworm’s Commentary: 

I listened to Enthusiasm on a long drive. I loved it. But I realized that I needed to look at the book, because there are some really cool things that Shulman wrote that need to be read vs heard. (I do recommend the audio book, the narrator was fantastic.)

I kept thinking to myself in the car, this is done right.  I know, I bash on Twilight more than this blog is meant to do, but the biggest thing I dislike about Twilight is that she compares the saga to great literature INCLUDING P&P, Romeo and Juliet, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. So, Enthusiasm covered all of the books that the saga tries to be (except Wuthering Heights).  I already commented in my original Twilight post that it’s not worthy of Austen.  We’ll comment on R&J in a few.

In my humble opinion, What Enthusiasm Did Right: 

  • Enthusiasm starts off with a line that makes all Austen lovers go, “Oh, another Austen-esque book.” Yes, BUT it’s not directly aligned with P&P.  In fact, despite its obvious love for P&P, it is actually more like Emma. Shulman also includes great references and  intelligent connections to other books, which aren’t “hit you over the head, learn some lit” type of thing. 
  • She backs up her characterization with actions, not with redundant adjectives. When you say, “Ned is a talented musician,” he writes music. When you say, “Parr is a romantic poet,” sonnets end up hanging on trees. There was no random adjective of anything that wasn’t useful to the plot. 
  • Julie is a bookworm, so she has lots of great conversations about English class. She’s not a quiet snob about her literature, except when she fears Ash or her teacher may ruin it for her.   
    • I loved their cynicism about how Romeo and Juliet were dumb teenagers! Yolanda points out, “Romeo’s already in love before he meets Juliet–with that Rosalind person, who’s her cousin— mega-ig. Then he sees Juliet and he’s all, ‘let me kiss your hand, I really mean it this time, you know I do ’cause I’m telling you in a sonnet.’ And Juliet’s not even fourteen yet. He’s going to kill himself over an eighth grader? Yeah right.”  (I may have gone off the road to laugh.) 
  • Romeo and Juliet speaking in a sonnet = love? Parr and Julie actually do have their first conversation in sonnet form. The sonnet on the tree was also an acrostic of Julie’s name. I love that Shulman actually makes use of literary devices!  It makes me feel reassured that when Julie claims to do well in English, the author doesn’t make you second-guess it.
  • This is TOTALLY high school.  This seems like a similar experience to what I had, which may have been on the innocent side, but still.  Sure, Parr is way too perfect, but it’s definitely accurate about the high school drama of BFF liking your man, daddy issues, etc. 
  • I’d also like to say: The perfect guy doesn’t just climb into your bedroom like he belongs there, HE GETS AN INVITATION.  (Which, don’t vampires need an invite anyway?) 
Class Stuff:
Grades: 7 & up 
I originally saw this when I was working in a seventh grade reading class.
Grade: A-  I enjoyed it a lot. This is definitely a light read. I loved the characters and related to the innocent drama. Yes, it’s predictable, but it’s smart in a subtle way. (I don’t think your average reader would get the connections to Midsummer, I’ve just been in that play three separate times.  The other references are thrown in as banter.) Cute little love story, great story about friendship. It’s done right.

1 Comment

Filed under High school, Middle school (6-8), Realistic, Romance

One response to “Enthusiasm, Polly Shulman (Alternative title for my post: This is how it’s done.)

  1. Pingback: Death Comes to Pemberley– say Wha? | Class Bookworm

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