Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Return to Paradise
Polly Shulman

Another book bought because of book bloggers. I think the one review that had me paying attention was over at The Hiding Spot, although I see that the usual suspects have also reviewed and recommended this book. The Jane Austen connection also had me interested (of course).

The Premise: Julia (Julie) Lefkowitz’s best friend (and next door neighbor) Ashleigh is an Enthusiast. Every few weeks or so Ashleigh has a new interest which she throws herself into with unabashed vigor, dragging Julie along. Julie follows her friend, a little exasperated but knowing that nothing will dissuade Ashleigh. One day Ashleigh’s newest craze is one of Julie’s favorite things – Jane Austen. Determined to find her own Mr. Darcy, Ashleigh talks Julie into crashing the Columbus Cotillion at Forefield Academy. There she decides the Mr. Darcy role will be filled by Grandison Parr, the boy Julie has been secretly crushing on.

My Thoughts: I was in a not-really-in-a-reading mood, so the length of Enthusiasm appealed to me (198 pages). When I started, I was pleasantly surprised by how soon I was caught up in this cute story. Julie narrates to keep us informed about everything going on in her life, and it’s a pretty normal one. The people around her are as you’d expect: a best friend, her parents (divorced and living separately, sharing custody of Julie), kids in school, and boys. What I really enjoyed was how amusing this normal life could be, seen by the reader, as Ashleigh came up with another crazy idea which Julie would try to suppress, or as misunderstandings abounded.

I liked the dynamic between Julie and Ashleigh, particularly their loyalty to one another. Sure, Julie feels a twinge of annoyance that Ashleigh is appropriating an interest that was once hers alone, but even that twinge makes her feel guilty. She doesn’t want to begrudge Ashleigh anything, when she knows that Ashleigh would bend over backwards for her. This quiet suppression of how she feels so she doesn’t hurt her friend is fine sometimes, but when it comes to her feelings for Parr, that’s when I felt a little frustrated for her.  Ashleigh has a personality that takes over a room, and she can railroad Julie unintentionally, which she does when she assumes (and announces) that the man for Julie is Parr’s friend Ned, a Mr Bingley to her Mr. Darcy.  Julie of course keeps her real feelings back because she loves Ashleigh, but we readers know that Julie has noticed Parr around town long before the Cotillion and had nicknamed him the Mysterious Stranger. Of course, this secret from her best friend only serves to bite her in the butt. It’s not Ashleigh’s fault that she doesn’t know how Julie really feels, and it’s admirable that Julie puts her friend before herself, but throughout the book it seems to be a theme that Julie stays silent, not just with her best friend. It all works itself out, but I really wish that Julie had said something in at least one of the situations instead of being quiet. Maybe the merits of speaking up is a lesson she’s learning.

Julie loyally follows Ashleigh in Ashleigh’s schemes to see more of Parr, internally pained by the idea of seeing him with someone else, but trying to keep herself apart from him. What romance there is, is low key because it stays in the background until it’s time, but when romance does come to the forefront, it’s quite satisfying. Ultimately I really liked how things played out, and I loved how poetry was incorporated into this.

Overall: This is a perfect sized book for an evening when you find yourself craving something sweet but not without substance. I enjoyed how friendships and being a teen was conveyed, and the good-natured humor that overlaid everything made it a fun,  feel-good read.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository | Book closeouts ($3!)

Other reviews:
The Hiding Spot – A
Tempting Persephone – positive review

This is #4 for the Everything Austen challenge

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14 thoughts on “Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

    • Ah, “pick me up” – I was trying to look for those words!

      I was impressed. Definitely looking out for her next book THE GRIMM LEGACY. Set in a library? Fairy tale influence? Hello!

  1. Meant to comment earlier but forgot. I loved reading this. Light and fun. I believe I read it because Stephenie Meyer recommended it at the lecture I heard her speak at (before she’d hit the big time). 🙂

  2. So glad to see you also enjoyed this one! And you hit the nail on the head with “when you find yourself craving something sweet but not without substance.” That’s exactly how I felt about it, too.

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