It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s catalogue of work – and specifically Pride and Prejudice – is well suited for modernized adaptations. When considering Mansfield Park, however, examples are few and far between. In Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things, debut novelist Jacqueline Firkins refashions Austen’s third novel as a contemporary YA romance set in the preppy world of Mansfield, Massachusetts. The story opens on the protagonist, 17-year-old Edith “Edie” Price, being whisked away from her home in Ithaca, New York, to live in Mansfield – with her well-off aunt and uncle – only months before her high-school graduation. Edie, still grieving the death of her mom, simply wants to make it through to her 18th birthday and then leave Mansfield far behind, as her mother did years before. Aunt Norah, however, has ideas of transforming Edie into a polished young lady similar to Edie’s beautiful and accomplished teenage cousins.
While grateful for this temporary home, Edie not only resents the suggestions of being less-than but also of being indebted to the prim aunt who openly dismissed her mother’s life choices. It takes the arrival of gorgeous and wealthy heartbreaker Henry to make Mansfield more appealing. The situation is complicated by the fact that Henry’s sister is dating Sebastian, Edie’s neighbour. When Edie was 10 and visiting Mansfield with her mother, Sebastian was her first kiss and first crush – and she can’t help but wonder if he’s her one true love.
At times, the novel is overwhelmed by secondary and partially explored storylines that distract from the strongest dynamics of the plot. Glimpses of Edie’s musical prowess and her mother’s past life, as well as Sebastian’s secret aspirations, are introduced but never really take hold. The most exciting parts of the novel are Edie’s competing emotions for dangerous-but-likeable Henry and sweet-but-conflicted Sebastian, as well as the scenes that show Edie’s surprising bond with her cousins. Powerfully written and charmingly sincere, Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things is a tale of first loves, missed opportunities, and second chances which will appeal to an audience that relishes love triangles and quick-witted Austen-esque heroines.