Sunday 31 January 2016

#CBR8 Book 5: "The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet" by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lydia Bennet became somewhat of an internet celebrity when her older sister Lizzie's vlogs, made as part of her graduate project, went viral in a major way. Always happy to be the centre of attention, Lydia made her own videos and loved the attention she got on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media sites. Unfortunately, when she fell in love with and trusted a man who took terrible advantage of her, she also had to face her private life being open for all to see, and her name became synonymous with "that girl whose boyfriend tried to sell their sex tape to make money". Then her sister Lizzie's powerful boyfriend paid to have the whole ugly situation go away, and Lydia was left traumatised, humiliated and heart-broken.

Now Lydia is trying to rebuild her confidence and look to the future. Still living at home with her parents while her two older sisters have found love and moved to big cities, Lydia is completing summer courses at community college in preparation for transferring to San Francisco, where she'll study psychology and live with her taciturn Goth cousin Mary. Trying to re-build your life in a place where everyone is aware of who you are and what mistakes you've made isn't easy, though, and Lydia is so worried that everyone around her is just waiting for her to screw up again that she retreats back into the carefree party girl persona she used to be so comfortable with. All she needs to do to get accepted at the prestigious San Francisco university she wants to transfer into is write her application essay about a time when she experienced failure and what she learned from it. That shouldn't be too difficult, should it?

While Lydia's had to grow a lot since her first serious relationship crashed and burned extremely publicly, she's still has a lot of healing and maturing to do. Clearly feeling inadequate in comparison to both her sisters who are working in the fields they're most passionate about, Lydia is still not entirely sure what she wants to do with her life. While she likes the idea of studying psychology, she also has doubts and gets very insecure when she realises how many years the education is likely to take. She tries to cling to her old life while being impatient to move on to a new and better one, yet is uncertain and afraid of screwing up badly again. She's also struggling to rebuild the trust of one of her best friends, her cousin Mary, as well as her sisters and her parents.

The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet is a sequel to both the highly successful YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which re-imagined Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for the 21st Century (which if you haven't watched - what are you doing with your life?) AND the book The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, which gave us a lot of extra insight into protagonist Lizzie and further re-imagining of a lot of the scenes from the original novel that didn't appear in the series. In the Austen novel, Lydia is the obnoxious and oblivious flighty youngest sister who elopes with Mr Darcy's childhood friend and later nemesis, Mr. Wickham and seems quite happy to have ended up married to him.

In the modern re-imagining, Lydia may have started out similarly wild and irritating, but thanks in large part to the immense charm and skill with which actress Mary Kate Wiles portrayed her, Lydia grew to be a huge fan favourite and because the fate of Lydia Bennet of 200 years ago simply wouldn't work today, the show's writers took her story in a different direction. Running off with a man to whom you are not married wouldn't raise so much as an eyebrow in today's society, but being betrayed by your lover with the release of a sex tape would absolutely cause a stir similar to that of a Regency elopement. In both the book and the YouTube series, Mr. Darcy eventually comes through and sorts things out for the Bennet family in an attempt to make life easier for Lizzie, the woman he loves. In the YouTube series, however, Lizzie and Lydia tearfully begin to re-build their somewhat dysfunctional relationship in the aftermath of the tragedy and Lydia not trapped forever in a relationship with Wickham.

Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley, two of the writers of the show, write in the acknowledgements that fans kept asking for Lydia's continued story and wanted to see that she had a chance at the same happy ending that her two sisters got. This book shows us what how Lydia's life progressed after the scandal that nearly ruined her life. There are appearances from Lizzie and Jane, but the most important supporting character is Mary, who in the YouTube re-imagining is the Bennet sisters' gloomy cousin, rather than their sister. Mary only appeared in a couple of episodes in the main YouTube series, but was quite prominent in Lydia's own videos (a spin-off of the main series). In this book she's working in a coffee shop off campus of the community college, waiting for Lydia to finish her courses so they can move to San Francisco together. She has a lovely sub-plot where she becomes the bassist of a local band, mainly through Lydia's machinations.

Having listened to the audio book of Pride and Prejudice at the end of last year and then read Jo Baker's Longbourn, it's interesting to have three very different versions of Lydia Bennet and her story in my head. The modern version is the only one I'd really be interested in reading more about, though, and I'm really glad that Rorick and Kiley decided to pen the continuing story of the youngest Bennet sisters, to give fans of the show an idea of what the future brings for her. It was absolutely nice to catch up with the older sisters and seeing where their lives had taken them, but getting more Lydia and Mary was more fun than I was expecting. Like in the series, Lydia occasionally really annoyed me and I kept wanting to shake her for some of the choices she was making, but slowly but surely, she figures out what she wants and who she wants to be, and in many ways, that was even more satisfying than her sister's Lizzie's development. Lydia's views on Dracula were also hilarious. Absolutely a worth-while book to pick up if you liked The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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