It frustrates me that I didn’t like Pride more than I did, because the concept is awesome. In this modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, teenager Zuri Benitez, who is Afro-Latino, lives in Bushwick, New York, with her family. They live next door to a run-down mansion that is purchased and remodeled by a Black family from Manhattan. Zuri can’t stand her new neighbors, especially Darius Darcy. With his rich ways, he doesn’t fit in her neighborhood, and she fears that people like his family (rich people) will contribute to the kind of gentrification that will destroy everything Zuri loves about her home.
This is very much a YA novel and Zuri is appropriately immature. Unfortunately, this was also the biggest weakness of the novel for me – I did not always like being around her. She’s judgmental. She’s often mean, even cruel. She’s self-centered. She’s also a brilliant writer, ferociously loyal, and protective of her family. I just felt that her irritating qualities eclipsed her many good ones.
Zuri is the book’s narrator and since Darius is a mystery to her, he’s also a mystery to the reader. Honestly, these two just confused the hell out of me. Why on earth would Darius want to spend time with someone who mocks him at every turn – not playfully, but with real malice? Why would Zuri want to spend time with a guy who doesn’t show her respect when he’s with his friends or his family? There’s nothing that seems to hold this relationship together. Darius and Zuri do not have common interests. Zuri fails to develop a sense of empathy for Darius and Darius lacks a deep understanding of Zuri. Darius’s heroic moment consists of beating someone up, which not only seemed out of character but was not, in my view, heroic even though the other guy in the fight certainly deserved it. Other than an on again/off again lust, there just wasn’t any reason to care whether these two kids get together or stay together.
The relationships that do work are the ones between Zuri and her family and Zuri and her neighborhood. Here’s the opening paragraph:
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 wanna do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on the sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What these rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love.
Zuri’s pride in her heritage and her community shine from every page. It’s truly a joy to hear her talk with mingled love and exasperation of her supportive but strict parents, her grandmother, and her sisters – the older Janae, home from college for the summer, the boy-crazy thirteen year old twins Layla and Kayla, and the money-smart Marisol. I never felt that Zuri really loved Darius. But I for sure felt that Zuri loved her family and her community, itself an extension of her family:
On the corner, a white woman is scooping up her dog’s poop with her plastic bag-covered hand. She pulls off the bag, ties it up, and tosses it into a nearby bin, then pets her dog as if he’s done a good job. I spot Mr. Turner from down the block, standing outside Hernando’s with his cup of coffee. Soon he’ll pull out the plastic crates, turn them over on their sides, and wait for Senor Feliciano, Stoney, Ascencio, Mr. Wright, and some of the other grandpas to join him in a daily game of dominos or cards while smack-talking about politics and the latest soccer match.
When the street lights come on, they’ll move out of the way for the younger guys-Colin and his crew, who just stand here checking out girls, drinking no-juice from bottles, and also smack-talking about politics and the latest basketball game. Then the block party and the music will move in, and everyone will eat and dance late into the night.
The ending of the book confused me. Throughout the book Zuri fears that more money will push people out of her neighborhood, but she acknowledges that:
My neighborhood is made of love, but it’s money and buildings and food and jobs that keep it alive-and even I have to admit that the new people moving in, with their extra money and dreams, can sometimes make things better. We’ll have to find a way to make both sides of Bushwick work.
Alas, the book never answers the question of how to do that, and an ending that seemed to me to be tragic is presented as an opportunity to try new things.
SPOILER: Gentrification has caused the value of the building Zuri’s family rents to go up in value to the point where the owner decides to sell, and Zuri’s family will have to move to a less costly neighborhood. Zuri is devastated but her father frames it as a chance for the family to expand its horizons. After a book full of social commentary, the commentary drops away to a “change is good, maybe?” message.
I found the ending to be frustrating and I was never invested in the romance. However, I loved the celebration of family, of Afro-Latino culture, and of place.
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