I really wanted to like Pride. It’s a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which I will never not want to read, and an own voices novel, of which I’m trying to read more. But Ibi Zoboi’s Brooklyn-based take on the classic novel was just such a slog to get through, and there is very little to like about any of the characters.
There was a lot of promise with Pride. A lot of the elements of the original story are there, they’re simply updated to resemble something a little more current. And honestly, I think Brooklyn was a perfect place to set a modern adaptation (not that I’m biased or anything), because there is a lot of varied culture in the borough. Different neighborhoods have completely different feels. The Bennetts are now the Benitezes, a Haitian-Dominican family, the heart of their block in Bushwick. Elizabeth is Zuri, Jane is Janae. Instead of Bingley, we have two Darcy boys – brothers Ainsley (Bingley) and Darius (Darcy) – who move in across the street.
Issues that aren’t really present in the original Pride and Prejudice are cleverly woven into Zoboi’s novel; she touches on privilege, class issues, community, gentrification… It’s a fresh look at a continually re-told story, and in regards to the gentrification issue, something that isn’t really addressed in a lot of literature. And I loved that Zoboi told this very common story about culture clash and class struggles without making it the stereotypical black versus white dynamic. But rather than focus on these aspects and delve into a really thoughtful story about relationships, judging people by appearances, and learning to accept different experiences, Pride is cheap relationship drama populated by absolutely insufferable characters, none of whom grow in any meaningful way.
That’s the crux of my issue. I could get past the writing, which came across as very inauthentic, but I can’t forgive characters who have no redeeming qualities. How am I supposed to root for Zuri and Darius to get together when Zuri is a judgmental hypocrite and Darius is a condescending jerk? Pride follows the original story, so you know that eventually their feelings for each other will change. The problem is that they change abruptly, with no set-up and despite all reason and logic. Their behavior and attitude towards each other doesn’t change, but suddenly they like each other…except they don’t. Not really. He never stands up for her when she gets put down by his friends or his family, and she does so many 180s it’s a wonder she’s not constantly dizzy. They never really come to an understanding; they just kind of ignore all of their issues. How romantic.
Even Zuri’s relationship with her sisters is terrible; she almost deliberately sabotages Janae and Ainsley because she decided right from the get-go that since Ainsley is rich, he isn’t worth it. And while Zuri makes a lot of noise about how she doesn’t need a man (true) and that she wants a career (admirable), her main reason is because she doesn’t want her sister to spend her entire summer with a boy and not with her.
All of the characters are flat. They’re given very basic character traits and no growth or development outside of that. We’re told a lot of things that Zoboi didn’t bother to actually make come across in the writing. Janae is all “gooey sweetness” but I don’t see any evidence of that. Ainsley and Darius are rich and that’s about it. Zuri is so proud of being from Bushwick that she mentions it every five sentences. At one point, Darius even tells Zuri that she’s “not like other girls” and that she’s special, but I’ve no idea how he knows that, because he doesn’t know anything about her except that she writes poetry. Lots of girls write poetry.
Although I will say that I really enjoyed the scraps of Zuri’s poems that Zoboi included. They were actually quite lovely and a nice touch.
To be perfectly honest, this book isn’t meant for me. I know that. I have a jillion versions of Pride and Prejudice that I can turn to when I want. This is for black girls and Latinx girls, girls who don’t have their own version, who can use this opportunity to see themselves in a classic story like they never have before. It’s a diverse retelling, and as I mentioned, it does bring up a lot of prominent, topical issues, so I’m glad that it exists. But wow, does a story with this much promise deserve better characters.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi is published by Balzer + Bray and is currently available wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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