What do you do when you’re a writer who’s a huge fan of Jane Austen? You retell one of her novels with a modern twist, of course.
Honestly, most authors wouldn’t dare, but that didn’t stop Melissa Pimentel who considers Austen a genius. But what book to choose? For Melissa, that part was easy. Persuasion has always been her favorite.
“It’s often one of the more overlooked of her novels — I think it’s seen as a little quiet, and it lacks some of the punch of Emma and Pride and Prejudice,” Melissa told Cracking the Cover. “I love its gentility, though, and its portrayal of tricky family dynamics. I thought it would be fun to try to take it into the 21st Century — and it was! It was also much, much harder than I’d anticipated!”
Melissa’s novel, The One That Got Away, follows Ruby and Ethan, two people made for each other except perhaps for their backgrounds and future aspirations. Ten years after the couple split up, Ruby is taking a short break from her busy career in Manhattan to visit England for her little sister’s wedding. Of course as the groom’s best friend, Ethan will be there, too. And Ethan has changed a whole lot since Ruby last saw him. As preparations get underway for the big day, Ruby is forced to spend time with her ex, and she starts to wonder if breaking it off with him was the right decision after all.
“I’m American but have lived in London for 14 years now, so I sort of straddle the Atlantic these days,” Melissa said. “My husband is from the north of England and it’s become one of my favorite places — it’s so beautiful there, and there’s so much history (and so many castles!). We were married in a castle in Northumberland (which sounds fancier than it was — seriously, there are so many castles up there, they’re basically like bingo halls) so that was definitely on my mind when writing this — though the culture clash at my wedding wasn’t quite as extreme!”
Another interesting choice made by Melissa was to tell The One That Got Away from two points of view using first and third person to differentiate between “now” and “then.”
It’s an unusual treatment that Melissa says she went back and forth on. “I’m pretty sure I wrote half of the ‘then’ section in first person (from Ruby’s point of view) and then changed it all,” Melissa said. “I wanted to get a little distance between Ruby in the ‘now’ sections and what happened between her and Ethan in the past, and I also wanted to make sure Ethan got equal billing when telling their love story.”
The One That Got Away is not technically a young adult novel, but is being billed as a sort of crossover/new adult book. It’s a decision Melissa says makes sense. “I think the theme is pretty universal — specifically, how we think our lives should and will be when we’re young and how the turn out,” she said. “Plus, it’s a love story, and everyone likes a love story!”
Learn more about Melissa Pimentel and The One That Got Away by reading the complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.
The One That Got Away is not technically a YA novel, though it may appeal to YA readers. Keep in mind, however, that its intended audience is adult/new adult and so the situations and material (sex, drinking, etc.) are geared toward older readers.
Like the author, Persuasion is my favorite of Jane Austen’s books. However, I wouldn’t exactly call The One That Got Away a retelling. I don’t know about other readers, but when I’m told something’s a retelling, I look for the source material within the new book. In are some similarities, but a lot of key points are sort of missing. I wish it had been billed as a second-chance romance instead so that I spent less energy on looking for things that weren’t there.
I also dislike the word “retelling” because a comparison of authors also tends to follow, and, in this case, Austen is going to win every time.
That said, there’s a lot that does work in The One That Got Away. I usually don’t like a mix of first and third person in a single work, but in this case it works really well. At first, it’s a little jarring, but once you get used to it, the sense of separation is enhanced.
I enjoyed Melissa Pimentel’s main characters as well. Both Ruby and Ethan are nuanced and likeable. The other characters … not so much, but their quirks also serve to highlight Ruby and Ethan.
The One That Got Away is a nice romance that manages too never cross too far into the cheesy or over-the-top categories. It’s an easy read that fans of romance should enjoy.
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