Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Cassandra’s Sister: Growing Up Jane Austen

Cassandra’s Sister: Growing Up Jane Austen

Veronica Bennett
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Candlewick Press, 2007   ISBN: 978-0763634643

Jenny Austen is quite content with her life in Steventon. She loves the house in which she lives and the beautiful Hampshire countryside. She adores her sister Cassandra who is such a wonderful companion and who alone in Jenny’s family seems to understand Jenny so well. Unlike so many other young women Jenny does not hanker for the social life of Bath or London. She loves the quiet of the countryside and the peace that it offers so that she can write her stories.

Of course there are disruptions and upheavals in their lives, just as there are in every family. Their dear Eliza, Mama’s niece, arrives unannounced one day to say that her husband, a Frenchman, was guillotined in his homeland. Naturally the Austens rally around Eliza to support her as best they can.

Then there is the matter of Cassandra’s engagement to Tom Fowle. Tom has very little money and he and Cass have waited several years already. They have been very patient and everybody hopes that Tom will soon be able to secure a good position so that he and Cass will at last be able to marry.

So far Jenny has not really thought that much about young men except with regard to the characters that she creates in the novels that she has written. But then she goes to the Manydown ball and she meets a young man who quite simply takes her breath away. The feeling appears to be mutual. Without a doubt Tom Lefroy seems to be completely taken with Jenny and Jenny has every reason to hope that he will make his interest known to her father. But, alas, Tom leaves Hampshire without making his feelings known to either Jenny or her father and Jenny’s heart suffers terribly.

As if this is not bad enough, Cass then gets a letter to say that her dearest Tom has died while on a job in the West Indies. Cass decides there and then that there will be no one else for her. Though she and Tom were never married it is as if she is a widow. Jenny begins to wonder if her chances of a happy marriage have died too. Will she ever find someone to share her life with her the way her brothers seem to be doing so easily? Will she ever have children of her own or will only have the role of being aunt to her brother’s many children?

In this excellent novel readers will get the chance to explore the world that Jane Austen lived in. The author has beautifully captured the essence of the time: the language, the way people behaved, the way they thought, and the way they looked at the world. Readers will see how hard it was to be a young woman, especially if one did not have money of ones own. One could not go anywhere unaccompanied and one had to get permission to do anything at all. It must have been a stifling atmosphere for a young woman who wanted more from life than balls, parties, marriage, and children.

Older readers who have read Jane Austen’s books will enjoy reading this book and seeing how the author suggests where and how Jane Austen got the ideas for her books.