Review of Emma of 83rd Street by Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding

A retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma? Yes, please. Mostly.

Blurb: Beautiful, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse has lived twenty-three years in her tight-knit Upper East Side neighborhood with very little to distress or vex her…that is, until her budding matchmaking hobby results in her sister’s marriage—and subsequent move downtown. Now, with her sister gone and all her friends traveling abroad, Emma must start her final year of grad school grappling with an entirely new emotion: boredom. So when she meets Nadine, a wide-eyed Ohio transplant with a heart of gold and drugstore blonde highlights to match, Emma not only sees a potential new friend but a new project. If only her overbearing neighbor George Knightley would get out of her way.

Handsome, smart, and successful, the only thing that frustrates Knightley more than a corked whiskey is his childhood friend, Emma. Whether it’s her shopping sprees between classes or her revolving door of ill-conceived hobbies, he is only too happy to lecture her on all the finer points of adulthood she’s so hell-bent on ignoring. But despite his gripes—and much to his own chagrin—Knightley can’t help but notice that the girl next door is a woman now…one who he suddenly can’t get out of his head.

As Emma’s best laid plans collide with everyone from hipster baristas to meddling family members to flaky playboy millionaires, these two friends slowly realize their need to always be right has been usurped by a new need entirely, and it’s not long before they discover that even the most familiar stories still have some surprises.

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I believe by now after many film adaptations and book retellings, we know the story of Emma, a rich girl who fancies herself a matchmaker. She lives alone (if living with a house full of help can be considered alone) with her aging father while next door lives Knightley, her best friend who seems almost like a brother and in at least the Clueless version is her ex-stepbrother.

In Emma of 83rd Street the author duo of Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding do a good job of navigating the character of Emma, who can come off as un-self-aware, snobby, and self-centered in the wrong hands. Here she is constantly growing, wanting to be her own person and facing challenges on her own terms. Sometimes, yes, she does think she knows best but Knightley helps keep her from being arrogant.

I loved how Emma has unbreakable bond with her deceased mother through art, which Emma maintains by obtaining a degree in it and making it her professional life.

Much of Emma of 83rd Street is enjoyable as Emma acquires new best friend, Nadine, while her long-time best friends are off on adventures. Emma helps Nadine navigate the waters of Manhattan with a makeover and tips but it’s clear that Nadine is not a Barbie doll for Emma to simple makeover and manipulate as she has her own goals and desires and won’t be taken advantage of.

Where this novel falls short for me is the characterization of Knightley. Here we have a character who has been portrayed onscreen by Paul Rudd, Jeremy Northam, Jonny Lee Miller, and recently Johnny Flynn, actors who typically portray charming, nice guys (okay, Northam sometimes plays charming, un-nice guys but charming is still a key descriptor). Knightley is savvy, insightful, and kind. The Knightley portrayed in Emma of 83rd Street felt like he had more in common Pride and Prejudice‘s Darcy than Knightley, especially since Emma of 83rd Street is told from his POV as well as Emma’s. His charm is extremely lacking. The straw and the camel for me regarding this characterization was when he uttered something akin to “I want to f*** you all over this g**d****d house.” Oh, be still my beating heart with that eloquent and very romantic declaration. Nope. Just ugh. From that utterance forward, the tenor of the novel changed and became significantly less charming. Not that Knightley had been charming before. It felt like the authors decided to unleash the sexy gates and have two chapters of seemingly unbridled passion as the novel neared its end.

Likewise, it was at the point that Emma and Knightley came together that the novel began to drag as if the authors didn’t realize that once the lucky couple is finalized the book should be ending. Instead, for those readers who need open door gratification, it’s here in lump form. So, I guess you could say that the ending didn’t work for me.

Emma of 83rd Street is both a hit and a miss for me–which means that I should probably not use baseball terminology when describing it. 😉

I received a copy for an honest review.

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