Dear Emma: A Unique Take on a Classic Austen Story

Posted May 29, 2016 by Carlisa in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Dear Emma: A Unique Take on a Classic Austen StoryDear Emma by Katie Heaney
Published by Grand Central Publishing on March 1, 2016
Genres: New Adult, Contemporary, Classic Retelling
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley

Harriet, the author of her college newspaper's pseudonymous student advice column "Dear Emma," is great at telling others what to do, dispensing wisdom for the lovelorn and lonely on her Midwestern campus. Somehow, though, she can't take her own advice, especially after Keith, the guy she's dating, blows her off completely. When Harriet discovers that Keith has started seeing the beautiful and intimidating Remy, she wants to hate her. But she can't help warming to Remy, who soon writes to "Dear Emma" asking for romantic advice.

Now Harriet has the perfect opportunity to take revenge on the person who broke her heart. But as she begins to doubt her own motivations and presumably faultless guidance, she's forced to question how much she really knows about love, friendship and well-meaning advice.

If you’ve read Emma by Jane Austen, you’d know that the premise of that book is about Emma meddling in her friends’ lives, mostly match-making. She’s endearing in a get-out-of-everyone’s-business kind of way. Katie Heaney takes that story and placed it in a modern, college setting, a concept I was very intrigued by. Overall, I enjoyed Dear Emma, and I found her really relatable, especially to me as an English-major college student who works in the library. But it wasn’t my favorite, which is why it sits at a solid three stars.

I really did love Harriet (the main character) in this book. She’s just very relatable and has a very fun voice throughout. My first highlight is about 5% in when a boy she likes comes near her desk at the library. Just look at this quote:

Reflexively, like a deer who has just noticed she’s been spotted by a human being, I stopped moving. I stopped typing. I sat up straight. My fingers hovered over the keyboard for a second before I realized that I looked weird, and then I resumed frantic mime-typing: “Dear SSH, a;lsdfkja;leifaow;eiffasdl;kfjasl;kdfjas;lkdfja;lskdfj;.”

First of all, that gibberish-typing that we’ve all done before was not very easy to retype exactly on here. Second of all, this is where I put my first note: “I already love her.” And then the quote continues:

“Hey,” he said, having traversed the thirty or so feet between the front entrance and the desk in what seemed to me an inhuman speed. “Oh, hey!” he said, again, in apparent recognition.
“Oh, hi…hey!” I said. I figured I should probably pretend not to know his name, because I’d only learned it by looking up our class’s registered student list and then searching for all the guys in it on Facebook, one by one, until I found him.”

At this point, I included another note: “Lol me.” Hahahaha, if you haven’t done something like this for a crush, then you’re lying. And then there were just so many more relatable college-experience type things. Like roommate bonding over dissecting text messages from boys. My roommates and I do this all. the. time. And I know we’re not alone.

So she just felt very real to me. Just a college student who’s slightly insecure, but who is just trying to do her best and be happy. She writes anonymously for the school paper, giving advice to people who write in to her. This is where the Austen Emma aspect comes in. Austen’s Emma attempts to fix everyone’s lives around her. So does Harriet, whose pen name is Emma, when she gives advice. I also made a note of the stark contrast between Harriet’s thoughts and her letters to people. They were very different…and I liked that. I think that’s how our minds work, don’t they? We give advice to people…and then when we’re placed in that same situation, we lose our minds and suddenly forget everything we ever thought we knew.

And that’s also how it works in Austen’s Emma, but this is interesting because Harriet kind of acts like Emma and Emma’s friend Harriet Smith. When she writes for the advice column, she’s the match-making, life-fixing Emma. When she’s herself, she’s unsure-of-herself Harriet Smith. And it was cool to see that contrast.

So Harriet kind of has to come to terms with who she is. And the book doesn’t end up with the traditional happily-ever-after that you’d expect from a Jane Austen retelling, but I liked that.

You might be asking “Why, Carlisa, if you liked it so much, did you give it only 3.5 stars?” And I’d answer, “I don’t really know. It’s kind of a gut feeling.” It was relatable and fun and a quick read. But not a favorite, not something I’d ever re-read, not spectacular. But it was funny, relatable, nostalgic, and unique. So I’d say if you’re a fan of new adult contemporary and fun, quirky characters…then read this book!