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. 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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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 draw 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.
by Claire LeZebnik
Years ago, this was one of the first YA retellings of a Jane Austen novel that I read and you will notice that LeZebnik is represented several times 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.
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.
by Ibi Zoboi
I haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, but am looking forward to it. 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 two 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.
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
by Blair Thornburgh
Ordinary Girls is more of a book “informed by” Sense and Sensibility, rather than a retelling. It is also one of the best written books on this list of Austen adaptations. 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.
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, naturally 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! The following books are two original takes on the story.
For Darkness Shows the Stars
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.
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.
Austen never finished Sanditon, but it’s fun to think about what would have been.
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.)