Book Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Pride and Prejudice has been adapted over and over again, but I think I have found my new favorite in Ibi Zoboi’s Pride.[1] The book is narrated in the first person by Zuri Benitez, a seventeen year old girl living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The story starts at the beginning of summer vacation, when two important occurrences kick the events of the book into high gear: Zuri’s older sister, Janae, returns from her first year of college, and a new, incredibly rich, family moves in across the street.

There were a great deal of adaptational choices that I loved about this book, but one that I especially appreciated was the most obvious shift, that of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the main characters. Since we read from Zuri’s perspective, we get to see the great pride that she has in her Afro-Latinx roots, not only through her internal narration, but also through her actions and in her in interactions with other characters.

Another change that I greatly appreciated was the addition of the character “Madrina”. She is the owner of the apartment building that the Benitez family lives in, and a priestess of the love goddess Ochún. Zuri frequently goes to Madrina for advice and comfort, and is such a lively and full character that I absolutely adored. That Madrina’s nephew, Colin, will inherit the apartment building is an analog to how in the original Pride and Prejudice, due to the lack of property rights afforded to women, none of the Bennet sisters could inherit their father’s land when he died, and so the property would go to their cousin, William Collins. (For those of you reading this from a adaptation-review position more than a standalone-book position, I’ve included a list below of the analogous characters & some major & minor changes in how they are related.)

It has been a while since I sat down to read the original Pride and Prejudice, but given that the book was written and published over 200 years ago, many things had to be changed, especially with regard to the fact that in the original context, the endgame was always marriage for love and/or economic security. In this updated context, however, while the world of the Benitez sisters does include love and desire for economic success, it is a desire for economic success upon their own merits. All five girls have independent dreams, goals, and aspirations, independent of any man.

I loved this book. I loved how it dove into the difficulties of gentrification, I loved how it unabashedly praised and upheld family unity and community, and I loved how it explored the blending of traditions new and old. What I did not love was the lack of the smallest hint of anything that slightly indicated queer folk inhabited the same planet as the people in this book. Don’t get me wrong, the love story was beautiful and unfolded with glorious complexity, and it’s an adaptation of a heterosexual romance, so I’m fine with that being the main pairing. But come on, would it kill to at least throw a bone and include a queer couple in the high school party scene? Or at the poetry reading? Or when touring the college campus? I don’t do star ratings on this blog, but if I did this book would be n + 1 queer characters short of five.

Being resigned to a lack of queer representation in this book aside, I found it to be a quick and easy read — two hours out of a Saturday morning when I needed to shut my brain off schoolwork for a short while — and reading about this last summer in Zuri’s childhood was exactly what I think I needed. The whole book takes place in the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, and she spends a great deal of it writing poetry and cultivating her college entry essay, bits of which are interspersed throughout the novel and greatly enhance the narrative. Her focus is very much centered around Howard University, and Pride pulls a fair bit from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates as a major source of Zuri’s inspiration.

Zuri’s enchantment with Howard and the concern that she has for her hood and her community are what shape Pride, even more than the romance that forms from the bare bones of Pride and Prejudice. Ibi Zoboi’s story augments Jane Austen’s, but also takes a completely different shape that is all its own. If I’m being honest, were the names changed completely and were I less familiar with the source material I could easily see this being taken for a completely autonomous narrative. (That said I don’t think that autonomous narratives exist because all literature builds on previous texts, and sometimes tracing the genealogy of a narrative is actually vital, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

So, if you’re looking for a retelling of a classic that has both fluff and nuance, I think that this is a solid pick. Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

[1] Sorry Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Adaptational notes:

Zuri Benitez = Lizzy Bennet

Janae Benitez = Jane Bennet

Marisol Benitez = Mary Bennet

Layla Benitez = Lydia Bennet

Kayla Benitez = Kitty Bennet

Darius Darcy = Fitzwilliam Darcy

Ainsley Darcy = Charles Bingley

Georgia Darcy = Georgiana Darcy

Warren = George Wickham

Colin = William Collins

Charlise = Charlotte Lucas

Catherine Darcy = Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Carrie = Caroline Bingley / Anne de Bourgh

Major & minor differences in how people are related to each other: Ainsley/Bingley is a Darcy. Carrie is simply a friend, and not his sister. She is someone that Darius’ grandmother, Catherine, approves of, and is thus also a substitute for Anne de Bourgh. Layla and Kayla are twins. Colin is not the cousin of the Benitez sisters, but the nephew of their landlady. He has declared romantic feelings toward Janae, not Zuri, in contrast to Mr. Collins, who proposed to Lizzy. Warren’s family has nothing to do with Darcy’s family; they are connected because they go to the same school.

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