It goes without saying that no modern retelling of a Jane Austen can ever live up to the original works of genius. Nevertheless, YA adaptations of Austen's novels can still be quite enjoyable to read.
This books on this list of YA light-romance novels vary somewhat in their literary quality, but I included any book I found to be a fun read. I found that the most successful books pull Austen plot and character elements to craft an entirely original story.
Peruse the young adult book list below to find some light reading, whether for your teen, or for yourself!
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Table of contents
Pride and Prejudice
Unsurprisingly, there are more Pride and Prejudice adaptations than than any other Jane Austen novel!
First and Then by Emma Mills
Mills' take on Jane Austen doesn't follow the exact narrative of Pride and Prejudice so much as it draws upon the themes of first impressions, misconceptions and knowing yourself. Mills also refers to Austen's work and characters throughout the novel. Devon's cousin has come to live with the family, disrupting Devon's routine at home and school. She is convinced that Foster is no good for her family and wishes she could just go back to silently admiring her best friend, Cass. Funny, witty and surprising.
Epic Fail by Claire LeZebnik
Years ago, this was one of the first YA retellings of a Jane Austen novel I read and you will notice that LeZebnik has several books on this list. LaZebnik follows the original plot fairly closely and transports the action to a prep school in Los Angeles. The premise may sound trite, but I found it to be a quick and surprisingly charming read for teens.
Debating Darcy by Sayantani DasGupta
DasGupta transfers the action of Austen's novel from the English Countryside to the cutthroat world of high school debate. Leela Bose from Longbourne High and Firoze Darcy of Netherfield Academy face off in more ways than one. With a diverse cast of characters and tons of lines pulled from the original Pride and Prejudice text, modern kids will relate to the teens who aren't afraid to speak up for themselves.
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
Julie's enthusiastic friend, Ashleigh, is always coming up with new schemes. Since her latest obsession is Jane Austin, Ashleigh ropes Julie into a plan to crash a boy's school in search of their very own Darcy and Bingley. The plot takes a cute comedy-of-errors turn and Shulman manages to tell an original story.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Zobobi transports her audience from Regency England to gentrifying Bushwick, Brooklyn. Zuri lives with her Haitian-Dominican family and is suspicious of the new, wealthy and handsome Darcy brothers who have just moved in across the street.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
I absolutely loved the YouTube web series, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and recommend it to any Jane Austen fan. It's clever and well-acted. Lizzie Bennet is a college student who records her thoughts via video. This is the companion book, but truthfully, just watch the Emmy Award-winning series!
Hands down, my favorite adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma for teens is Clueless. If you haven't seen it, rent it right away. Austen die-hards may also enjoy the following books.
Wrong about the Guy by Claire LaZebnik
This is another easy-breezy contemporary Austen YA adaptation from LaZebnik. Ellie's stepfather is a celebrity, bringing a degree of outside attention to her that she despises. Her mother has hired George to be her tutor, making her re-examine elements in her life she took for granted. This isn't as great an adaptation of Emma as I'd like (nothing can top Clueless, frankly) but a quick read from the library.
The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
Here's another light romance in the vein of Emma. The story is fairly predictable, even if you aren't familiar with the original, but the premise of match-making through coffee is entertaining.
Sense and Sensibility
All of these books share a loving-but-very-different sisters theme, in the vein of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood.
Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh
Ordinary Girls is more of a book "informed by" Sense and Sensibility, rather than a retelling. Sisters Plum and Ginny are opposites. Plum is practical, Ginny is dramatic. The family is undergoing financial stress and Plum begins to tutor another boy at school. I loved that this novel is less about romance and more about the sisters' relationship.
Rosewood: A Midsummer Meet Cute by Sayantani DasGupta
Elia Das wants to be a series Shakespearean actress, but her sister, Mallika, is more interested in going to Rosewood, a Regency-immersive summer camp where she might spot someone from her favorite Bridgerton-esque TV series. The Desi American sisters head to the camp, where Elia meets Rahul, a charming and sweet fellow camper. It's a breezy novel which will appeal to teens who love romance and have an yearning for the stage.
Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald
Despite the cheesy title and cover photo, McDonald's book was an amusing and entertaining Jane Austen adaptation for teens. Grace is practical and wants to study science. Her sister, Hallie, wants to be an actress. After their wealthy father's death, they move in with their eccentric, artistic mother.
Persuasion is a strong contender for my second favorite Austen novel! I have a sneaking suspicion that the older one gets, the more one appreciates Anne Elliot. The following books are two original takes on the story.
For Darkness Shows the Stars (series) by Diana Peterfreund
Elliot North lives in a dystopian world, where a genetic experiment gone wrong has had devastating consequences on the population. Elliot is a member of the new technology-adverse ruling class, and her former boyfriend, Kai, part of the "Post-Reduced" population, is now a servant on her family's estate. The novel poses strong ethical and moral questions about slavery, religion and intellectual thought.
The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik
LaZebnik's adaptation of Austen's Persuasion is relatively straight forward. In Los Angeles, 17-year-old Anna hopes for a second chance with Finn, a boy she reluctantly rejected a few years back. Like LaZebnik's other books on this list, The Last Best Kiss is undemanding of the reader but a quick, fun read on a rainy day.
Mansfield Park has the most confounding heroine. Some (but not me!) think Fanny Price is rather insipid. She's certainly not so in these adaptations!
Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins
Finally, after she spends several years in foster care, Edie Price's snobby relatives agree to become her guardians. Her new family, with their wealthy lifestyle, seems alien to her and she pines for her old friend, Sebastian. Then Sebastian's girlfriend, Claire and Claire's bad-boy brother, Henry, enter the scene. Over the course of the novel, Edie has to revise her first impressions and decide what she really wants for herself.
Seeking Mansfield (series) by Kate Watson
Honestly, you can't go wrong by putting Jane Austen and Shakespeare in the same book. Finley Price lives with her godparents and their son, Oliver Bertram, in Chicago. Finley dreams of treading the boards at Mansfield Theater, and Oliver encourages her. As in Austen's novel, a pair of siblings stir things up. The narration shifts between Finley's and Oliver's point of view.
The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik
Readers familiar with Mansfield Park will be either intrigued or repulsed by a surprise character reversal in The Trouble with Flirting from the original source material. Personally, I liked the twist in this flirty retelling which places the action at a summer camp for theater kids.
Jane Austen's take on gothic fiction may not be considered her best novel, but it sure is fun and so are these books inspired by the adventures of Catherine Morland.
Ghosted by Amanda Quain
If Austen's novel makes fun of gothic themes, Ghosted embraces them and goes full paranormal with a gender reversal! After the death of her father, Hattie Tilney has abandoned ghost-hunting. However, she finds herself paired with new student Kit Morland on a journalism project to investigate paranormal activity. Cue the slow and steady building of romantic feelings.
Austen never finished Sanditon, but it's fun to think about what would have been. You and your teens may have watched the splendid PBS miniseries which takes Sanditon in some very un-Austenesque (but entertaining!) directions.
Sanditon by Jane Austen and "another lady"
Set in a seaside town with an appealing heroine, I found this to be the most engaging of all the attempts at completing Sanditon that I came across. It was not written specifically for a young adult audience. However, it is a not a bad book and something to feed one's never ending appetite for Austen. (Note: this is not the miniseries version; the book cover is misleading.)