Published by FLUX on May 16th 2017
Sixteen-year-old Finley Price has perfected two things: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar. The only person who ever seems to notice Finley is her best friend, the Bertram's son Oliver. If she could just take Oliver's constant encouragement to heart and step out of the shadows, she'd finally chase her dream of joining the prestigious Mansfield Theater.
When teen movie stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move next door to the Bertram's, they immediately set their sights on Oliver and his cunning sister, Juliette, shaking up Finley and Oliver's stable friendship. As Emma and Oliver grow closer, Harlan finds his attention shifting from Juliette to the quiet, enigmatic, and thoroughly unimpressed Finley. Out of boredom, Harlan decides to make her fall in love with him. Problem is, the harder he seeks to win her, the harder he falls for her.
But Finley doesn't want to be won, and she doesn't want to see Oliver with anyone else. To claim Oliver's heart—and keep her own—she'll have to find the courage to do what she fears most: step into the spotlight.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
If you know me at all, you probably know about my love for Jane Austen. So, of course, when I saw a YA retelling of one of her novels on Netgalley, I immediately requested it! I’ll admit that Mansfield Park is my least favorite of Austen’s novels, but I thought Watson did well with this retelling. Her modernization of this story– a story (and, especially, a heroine) many people have trouble relating to– was done so cleverly, with nods to the original text sprinkled in here and there.
I’ll go ahead and say this up front: Seeking Mansfield is “angsty” YA at its finest. There is SO MUCH drama, and the relationships between characters comprise pretty much the sole focus of the book. This definitely kept me reading, though! I never mind a little drama (probably because I was an incredibly dramatic teenager, haha). The story is told through two POVs… which, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care for. Oliver’s POV felt a bit unnecessary. It didn’t detract from the story, but I didn’t feel it added much, either, especially since Finley seemed to have twice the amount of POV chapters as Oliver. Anyway, Seeking Mansfield follows Oliver and Finley’s family, the Bertrams, after famous Hollywood siblings Harlan and Emma Crawford move in next door to them for the summer. Just like in the source material, the Crawfords’ arrival in their neighborhood completely upends life in the Bertram family. The four become fast friends, and relationships begin to develop messily among them.
One of the main critiques of the original Mansfield Park I see time and time again is that the heroine, Fanny Price, is unlikeable and weak. Therefore, I was particularly interested to see how Watson would build the character of Finley in Seeking Mansfield. Finley ends up living with the Bertrams following the death of her famous movie star father and her mother’s subsequent alcoholism and abuse. I will say, I felt hesitant at first, because Finley begins the novel incredibly shy and insecure (she is also dealing with PTSD as a result of her mother’s abuse), but she undergoes tremendous character growth over the course of the book. She finds herself and realizes her potential.
As far as relationships, this book features a rare love triangle that I actually think worked well. Nothing, and I mean nothing, keeps me reading a book or series like a love triangle I’m truly invested in, lol. I think it worked for me because it was about change and growth, rather than about a girl trying to choose between to guys she’s in love with. Even though the author pulled off the love triangle, I will admit I preferred one person over the other. Oliver and Finley’s chemistry felt very stagnant. At the beginning of the book, it held promise, but they rarely interacted on the page once the Bertrams became entangled with the Crawfords. I actually liked Harlan and Finley together, and I felt that Harlan’s character flaws at the end of the novel, though unforgivable, came out of nowhere. I WAS ROOTING FOR HIM. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR HIM.
There are so many characters in this book, y’all. I loooved seeing Finley’s relationships with the Bertrams, especially her Uncle Thomas, evolve over the course of the book. All of the Bertram siblings, as well as Finley’s brother, Liam, had an interesting family dynamic. As for Harlan’s sister, Emma, I never cared for her. She does have her redeemable moments, and she’s a good friend to Finley, but overall, she lacked depth. This is a critique I have of most characters in Seeking Mansfield. Because there were so many different characters, and they were all entangled in some way, the characterization of all of them felt lacking.
One thing I loved about this book was the focus on theater. Harlan and Emma originally move to Chicago to star in a Shakespeare production there. Finley, Liam, and Oliver are all obsessed with theatre and movies, as well. Finley’s dad was a famed actor of stage and screen, and Finley is also in the process of applying to a prestigious theater program and directing a local community theater production. I got the sense that, for all these characters, the theater felt like home for them, and this is a feeling I definitely share.
Overall, though the plot felt a bit clunky and the characterizations felt a bit lacking, I did enjoy Seeking Mansfield. I sped through it. I would recommend it to any Austen fan, anyone who loves the theater, and anyone who enjoys romance-focused contemporaries!
Have you read Seeking Mansfield? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, do you plan to pick it up?
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