I don't really know how to describe how much I loved this.
The Other Bennet Sister is a clear window into Pride and Prejudice and it's beloved cast of characters. But instead of Lizzie, this time we follow the other (rather forgotten) Bennet sister, Mary.
In the classic original story, Mary is easy to make fun of. She's somber, plain, slouches away from others, cheerlessly pious, lacks charm and any liveliness that her sisters all seem to possess. But I never stopped to consider why Mary was this way since she was mostly used as another strike against the beloved Lizzie. Janice Hadlow brings Mary to life in a way that made me feel shameful for writing her off previously. As much as I love Lizzie and feel close to her when I read the original, Hadlow's Mary is an utterly relatable inspiration.
Consider this. Mary grows up in a house with a mother who admires beauty above all. Some wit is respected if paired with charm. To lack beauty in her eyes, and to possess no charm, is the ultimate diss to Mrs. Bennet. Mary, once close with her two older sisters as a child, pulls herself away from them once she realizes how her Mother (and in her mind, the world) sees her. Her father respects intellect, but loves to tease in an often mean-spirited manner. Plus he already has a favorite in Lizzie. Mary, is alone. Her only ally seems to be Mrs. Hill. All of this only encourages a once happy child to ostracize herself as a young woman, and to lose any sense of self worth she may have once had. But of course, there is more to Mary.
The book starts with a little of Mary's childhood and brings her pain into focus. As it continues into the period of P&P that we're familiar with, it's painful to see Mary's loneliness. Her passion for knowledge and reading is what keeps her sane. I think some readers may feel antsy during this portion of the story because we're all so familiar with it, but to see it through Mary's eyes is unique. It's once Mary leaves Longbourn that the story breaks away from the original, and it's a delight.
Mary's journey is gradual with many pitfalls and moments of reflection. But it's utterly page-turning. Her growth isn't straight forward, and there were moments I wanted to throw some water on her - but that's the beauty of it. Hadlow's writing is clever. She adds depth to other familiar characters in a way that feels like a true continuation of the original story with lush insight. Hadlow has the utmost respect for Jane Austen. Like Austen's books, The Other Bennet Sister isn't simply a romance. Hadlow has written a lesson on hope and happiness for the modern audience. It's an excellent elevation of the original story that begs us to reconsider a previously pushed aside heroine.
I'm delighted to say I will never look at Mary the same way again.