//by Polly Shulman//published 2006//

Enthusiasm.pgFrom jacket cover:

Julie’s best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast.  Julie never knows what new obsession will catch Ashleigh’s fancy, but she does know she’s likely to be drawn into the madness.

Ashleigh’s latest craze is Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice.  But Ashleigh can’t just appreciate it as a great read; she insists on emulating the novel’s nineteenth-century heroines, in speech, dress, and most important of all – their quest for True Love.

There’s more on the jacket cover, but that’s really the basic gist.  Julie is the narrator of this story, and she and Ashleigh have been best friends – and next-door neighbors – for pretty much their entire lives.  Ashleigh has dragged Julie along into more crazy obsessions than Julie can count.

I think that most of us have an Ashleigh in our lives (or maybe you are the Ashleigh!) – someone who throws themselves so completely into whatever they’re doing that they don’t really care if everyone else thinks they’re weird or over-the-top.  My  brother Timmy is an Enthusiast – from rock climbing to making balloon animals to tying knots to creating origami, we never know what Timmy is going to do next.  And even though Timmy never became obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and tried to talk me into sneaking into an all-boys’ school to find True Love…  well, it’s not something I would completely dismiss as a possibility. :-D

Overall, I found Enthusiasm to be a surprisingly enjoyable read.  Shulman did an excellent job with the characters of both Julie and Ashleigh.  Ashleigh’s enthusiasm is portrayed as lovable, endearing, and delightful – never obnoxious or pushy.  While Julie is quieter and more shy, she never comes across as thinking that either she or Ashleigh is “better” – from Julie’s narrative we gather that she finds both perspectives – Ashleigh’s full-throttled joy and Julie’s reserved step-by-step approach – completely valid.  Ashleigh respect’s Julie as well.  The friendship between these two girls is the heart of the book, and it comes across beautifully.  These two are really, really good friends, and I loved that.

The love story is, of course, a bit cheesy and a little predictable, but that didn’t diminish the fun.  Both the guys that Julie and Ashleigh meet are super nice – and, like the two girls, in completely different, but still good, ways.  I honestly couldn’t decide which of the guys I liked better!

I really appreciated that even though Julie’s parents are divorced and she has weird family dynamics stemming from that, that Shulman also presented us with other family situations – Ashleigh’s parents are very happily married, for instance.  It was super nice to read a YA story where divorce wasn’t presented as the 100%-of-the-time norm/something we just have to be resigned to because it always happens.  I felt that Shulman handled Julie’s family difficulties deftly, allowing Julie to work through some different things without bogging down the story with a lot of angst.

The story definitely wasn’t perfect (there’s this really weird scene where one of the dudes ends up climbing a tree and staying the night with Julie in a not-sexual way but was still super random and strange???), and was, at times, incredibly predictable, but overall it was a really fun, lighthearted read.  4/5.