Published by North Star Editions Buy on Amazon
Sixteen year-old Finley Price has perfected two things: how to direct a world-class production, and how to fly way, way under the radar. The only person who ever seems to notice Finley is her best friend and godparents' son, Oliver Bertram. If she could just take Oliver's constant encouragement to heart, she'd finally chase her dream of joining the prestigious Mansfield Theater.
When teen movie stars Emma and Harlan Crawford move across the street from the Bertram's, they immediately set their sights on Oliver and his vapid sister, Juliette, shaking up Finley and Oliver's stable friendship. As Emma and Oliver grow closer, Harlan finds his attention shifting from Juliette to the quiet, enigmatic, and thoroughly unimpressed Finley. Out of boredom, Harlan decides to make her fall in love with him. Problem is, the harder he seeks to win her, the harder he falls for her.
But Finley doesn't want to be won, and she doesn't want to see Oliver with anyone else. To claim Oliver's heart—and keep her own—she'll have to find the courage to do what she fears most: step into the spotlight.
SEEKING MANSFIELD is a charming YA contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic Mansfield Park, perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell.
This year I have become better acquainted with Mansfield Park and I’ve also been enjoying some great fanfiction stories based on this story. Kate Watson’s new release, Seeking Mansfield, is the first young adult novel I have read in JAFF and it’s one of those stories that slowly pulled me in until I found that I couldn’t put it down.
Seeking Mansfield takes place in present-day Chicago, where 16 year-old Finley Price, the introverted heroine of this story, lives with her godparents and their family. Here she also attends high school, but not social functions, with the Bertram’s self-absorbed daughter, Juliette, and works as a custodian at the esteemed Mansfield Theater in Chicago. Finley dreams of joining Mansfield Theater’s production company but lacks the confidence to assert herself in a way that will actually make this happen. Oliver, her godparents’ younger son, and Finley’s persistent cheerleader, who establishes himself as the person whispering into her ear and into everyone else’s’ ears, words of encouragement for Finley to follow her dreams. Little do they both realize the true nature of the feelings they both harbor for one another, so when the charismatic and worldly Crawford siblings enter the scene, the real drama unfolds in Finley’s and Oliver’s relationship.
As the Crawfords begin to play a larger role in the lives of the young Bertrams and Finley, while also starring center stage in their roles at the Mansfield Theater, Oliver and Finley become even more uncertain about their feelings towards one another. Emma Crawford, a vivacious and pretty flirt, becomes quite attached to Oliver and before long they are an established item. I loved the subtle and clever ties Kate Watson created in their relationship to Mary Crawford’s and Edmund Bertram’s relationship in Austen’s novel, as well as the ways that she made their relationship stand on its own two feet.
Teen heartthrob, Harlan Crawford, is also used to getting his way, and by that I mean he’s used to getting the girl(s)! Even though Juliette Bertram is now dating Raleigh Rushworth, who she captured through her own particular brand of arts and allurements, it’s Harlan Crawford who eventually becomes her heart’s desire. Naturally, their true intentions towards each other aren’t exactly in sync and before long it’s easy to guess who has caught Harlan’s attention, and possibly, his heart.
As Finley’s relationships with the Crawfords evolves, she is also forced to face the demons from her own past. Slowly, she grows more confident in her own skin and becomes the director of her own life. Now, she must figure out if her heart and her mind can be joined together to lead her in the right direction.
Naturally, great art doesn’t merely copy an original, it makes its own statements, and here in Seeking Mansfield, Kate Watson alters the storyline and the characters from Mansfield Park just enough to keep them true to the spirit of Austen’s characters, while updating them in ways that will resonate with modern-day readers. Similar to Fanny Price, Finley is grounded in her principles, yet she is also filled with some dreams and ambitions all of her own. Introverted and kind, Finley has a touch of sparkle to her personality that allows her to shine on her own merit. I believe this revision will please Janeites, while also allowing readers who haven’t read Mansfield Park to find plenty of reasons to applaud for Finley throughout this story.
The supporting characters are also very well done. One of the reasons that Austen’s characters still resonate with readers is because she crafted characters that feel true-to-life, who have a complex blend of characters traits that make them difficult to characterize in black and white terms. Ms. Watson achieves this with her supporting characters as well, where I found redeeming and likable qualities in every character, except for Aunt Nora, which is no big surprise there! I also found myself surprisingly and pleasantly drawn to Harlan Crawford, who is a character that I believe many readers will enjoy spending time with throughout this story.
I also found Kate Watson’s writing to contain that delicate balance of narration, dialogue, and action that I enjoy as a reader. Her characters speak in a very authentic manner and their dialogues not only helped the story unfold, they also developed the interiority of her characters. The entire story shifts between Finley’s and Oliver’s point-of-views, which allowed me to feel connected to both main characters and understand their inner struggles. There are also a few scenes with some very nicely crafted moments of romantic tension, which pleasantly caught me by surprise and again, helped to make me feel connected to the budding relationships in the story.
Part of why I love Mansfield Park is because I believe Austen was not only trying to tell a very deep and perceptive story, she was also trying to compel her audience to question some of the controversial social and political issues of her time. Seeking Mansfield is a darker-than-anticipated young adult story, which adds to its depth and its richness. While I don’t think Kate Watson is trying to question the Establishment of her time within her story, she will have her readers pondering our obsession with celebrity status, while also having readers reflect upon some relevant and timeless themes of the human condition, such as believing in one’s own worth, facing our personal demons with grace and humility, and overcoming our struggles through self-awareness and perseverance while staying true to our own values.
Kate Watson certainly deserves a standing ovation for delivering a show-stopping story!
Kate Watson is a young adult writer, wife, mother of two, and the tenth of thirteen children. Originally from Canada, she attended college in the States and holds a BA in Philosophy from Brigham Young University. A lover of travel and experiencing new cultures, she has also lived in Israel, Brazil, and the American South. She now calls Arizona home.
For several years, Kate worked as a senior director for a private university and was one of the faces of a national ad campaign for the university. Shortly following the birth of her first child, she chose to stay home full time and focus on her family and her writing.
Seeking Mansfield is her first novel, with a companion novel to follow. She is also a contributor to Eric Smith’s Welcome Home adoption anthology coming fall 2017 from Flux.
Connect with Kate Watson:
It’s Giveaway Time!
Kate Watson is giving away 2 copies of Seeking Mansfield to 2 lucky readers! U.S. winners will receive a paperback copy, international winners will receive an eBook.
To enter this giveaway, enter the Rafflecopter below. This giveaway ends on May 23, 2017.
You can visit Amazon to add this book to your bookshelf.
Visit Goodreads to see what your friends are saying about this story.
I’d like to thank Kate Watson for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.