Pride And Gentrification

Young Mr. Darcy Comes To Bushwick

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up.”

Ibi Zoboi makes it clear from the very beginning of Pride that her follow-up to American Street is both a reinvention of the Jane Austen classic and a modern look at race and class.

Zoboi’s  “remix” of Pride and Prejudice, like the original novel, centers on five sisters. But instead of English estates, Pride takes place in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, home to the five Afro-Latin Benitez sisters: narrator and high-schooler Zuri, Syracuse student Janae, money-obsessed Mari, and 13-year-old twins Layla and Kayla.

The house across the street from the Benitez home was always abandoned, with boarded-up windows and a hole in the roof. But before the Darcy family moves in, they transform it into a mini-mansion: “The gaping hole is fixed, the forest around it has been cut down into a perfect patch of too-green-for-the-hood lawn, and the new windows are so tall and wide that we can see right into the top and bottom floors of the house, with its shiny hardwood floors, white walls, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, art that looks like it was made by a kindergartener, and furniture that looks like it belongs in a doctor’s office.”

Ibi Zoboi author photo. Credit: Joseph Zoboi

Zuri bets her sisters that the family who pays decorators to do something they could do for themselves is white. But when the Darcys actually show up with their two teen-age sons, they turn out to be black: “You do know there are black people who have money out there in the world, Z, right?” eldest sister Janae scolds.

You don’t need to know the storyline of the Austen original to guess that a worlds-collide romance is brewing. But while the relationships may be a significant plot point, the transformation of Zuri’s home neighborhood anchors this remix. Like every hipster’s lament that “it was better before you got here,” Zuri struggles with the additions that indelibly shift Bushwick’s vibe.

“All around us are the white people doing their strange dances to this punk music, the Whole Foods bags, the colorful blankets, and the kids from around the way who try to carry on as if nothing is changing,” she thinks.

Zuri escapes into her writing, hoping that a stellar essay will be enough to get her into Howard University in the fall. Her poems, part brain dumps, part yearnings, punctuate the action and show how she wrestles with her ever-shifting world.

We may know how the story will end for Zuri and Darius Darcy. But that really doesn’t matter. The allure of “Pride” is its window into Zuri’s reality, from her family’s financial situation to the distinct language and rhythms of her neighborhood. We don’t always see that reality represented in fiction, particularly for young adults. That alone makes it well worth reading.

(Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins, September 18, 2018)

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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