Sixteen-year-old Catherine Vernon has been stranded in London for the summer-no friends, no ex-boyfriend Adam the Scum (good riddance!), and absolutely nothing to do but blog about her misery to her friends back home. Desperate for something-anything-to do in London while her (s)mother's off researching boring historical things, Cat starts reading the 1815 diary of Katherine Percival her mom gives her-and finds the similarities between their lives to be oddly close. But where Katherine has the whirls of the society, the parties and the gossip over who is engaged to who, Cat's only got some really excellent English chocolate. Then she meets William Percival-the uber-hot descendant of Katherine-and things start looking up . . .
This epistolary novel spans two centuries (through alternating chapters, all of Cat's chapters headed with song titles), combining the stories of two young women, Cat and Katherine. Cat, who shares her adventures with the reader via a blog format, is a modern day American teen who travels with her mom to the UK so that her mom may study the life of Mary Percival, whom Cat describes as "some woman who did absolutely nothing of import and has been dead for two hundred years."
*In the story, this Mary Percival character died before the age of 45, like Jane Austen. The reader will pretty quickly notice that this novel is heavily influenced / inspired by Austen's work.*
Katherine is a teen in 1815 England, whose story is provided through journal entries. While reading the excerpts from the journals of both Katherine and Mary Percival, Austen fans will likely notice that those journal scenes are basically remixes of plot points from Austen's Sense & Sensibility as well as Pride & Prejudice, but with some changes to make it Jensen's own unique imaginings. For one, a character in Katherine's era drinks too much at a party and suffers a sexual assault... which helps make even this fluff piece a bit of timely reading material.
While it may be easy to dismiss this as an easy breezy read, there are some respectable moments of character growth to be had here as well as some important, and as I said earlier, timely, topics to think on. Cat outwardly comes off as spoiled and obnoxious, but as the reader gets to know her a bit better, we learn that there's actually a fair amount of emotional hurt in her that she's struggling to address. But I did enjoy her sense of humor.
For example, visiting the Tower of London and the National Portrait Gallery and coming back with the hilariously simplified "King Henry (VIII) was rather hard on his wives... and I gotta say, after Anne Boleyn, they all look a bit anxious."
Continuing on in the NPG: "Winston Churchill didn't always look like a bulldog... Queen Victoria kinda did..."
Meanwhile, Katherine in her own time is struggling to maintain her sense of self when it's expected that she should just go along with her father's plan for her. I grew to really like Katherine's mother, who did her best to keep her daughter distanced from the gross choice of a suitor Katherine's father had picked out for her.
Mama curled in her favorite cushiony chair, feet tucked beneath her. In the moment, with the fire behind her and her face softened by shadow, she was familiar, like a mirror.
"Promise me something, Katherine," she said in a quiet moment.
"If I can."
"Oh, you can. Promise me that you will think, in every moment possible, what you want for yourself. And you will stand for yourself, especially in the times when no one seems interested in standing for you."
I did not understand, not really, but I promised nonetheless.
One moment in the story also illustrates a good point regarding double standards to think on: If we can acknowledge that some women may be fine pursuing fat, ugly or socially odious men simply for monetary gain, why is it so baffling to think men might likewise pursue plain women for THEIR wealth?
If you only get through the first few chapters of this, it'll be easy to dismiss it as forgettable froth, but there is a layer of depth here I found impressive and entertaining. Admittedly, I did prefer Katherine's portions of the book, but I'm a history junkie, not to mention I just found her story, that of a young woman so desperately trying to show others she has plenty of worth as an individual, not dependent on nabbing a husband, much more interesting than Cat's humorous but somewhat privileged ramblings around London... but Cat, though maybe a little irritating at first... she grew on me :-)