3.5 star, YA

Review: Being Mary Bennet by J.C. Peterson

Acerbic and delightful, this YA rom-com about a girl who resolves to become the main character of her own story is perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Becky Albertalli.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every bookworm secretly wishes to be Lizzie Bennet.

A less acknowledged truth is that Mary Bennet might be a better fit.

For seventeen-year-old Marnie Barnes, who’s convinced she is the long-suffering protagonist of her life, this revelation comes at the end of a series of self-induced disasters that force her to confront a devastating truth: Marnie has more in common with Mary Bennet—the utterly forgettable middle sister—than the effervescent Lizzie.

Determined to reinvent herself, she enlists the help of her bubbly roommate and opens herself up to the world—leading lady style. And between new friends, a very cute boy, and a rescue pup named Sir Pat, Marnie realizes that being the main character doesn’t mean rewriting your life entirely. It’s about finding the right cast of characters, the love interest of your dreams, and, most important, embracing your story, flaws and all.

With a hilariously sharp voice, a sweet and fulfilling romance that features a meet-cute in an animal shelter, and a big family that revels in causing big problems, this charming comedy of errors will have readers cheering for Marnie during every step of her obstacle-ridden journey toward embracing who she truly is.

If I’m honest, the sole reason I want to win the Hunt Prize is to earn my place among my older sisters. But more than that, what if it doesn’t matter? What if nothing will give me equal footing – equal love – within my family? What if all they see is Mary?

What if that’s all there is to see?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story but I found an oddly empathetic protagonist who only yearned for her family’s love as one of the overlooked middle children. With plenty of literary references, not only that of Jane Austen, I fell for Marnie as she strived to give herself a make over so that she resembled more as Lizzie Bennet in the story that was her life than the drab, annoying Mary.

At the heart of this story is about family and Marnie’s search for herself. Living in the shadow of her big sister’s brilliance, Marnie pushed herself to win the prestigious Hunt Prize as her sister once did many years ago. Perhaps then her father would pay her attention or she would make her mother stop for one second to be proud of her. I was so upset alongside Marnie at one particular family scene where it felt like her whole family was ignoring her. Like nothing happening in her life was important enough to be memorable. Even her troublesome younger sisters got more attention, even if it’s of the negative kind.

It was like she could’ve disappeared. She was that invisible. She wasn’t even expected at this family gathering. I was so indignant on her behalf! And that’s where trouble comes in.

The one person to pay attention to her was an old family friend of theirs. Although this guy was fairly young in his early twenties, he was still creepy enough that he was paying certain attention to her. Even with Marnie’s previously harmless unrequited infatuation with him, it suddenly got more serious there and I’m glad the book didn’t particularly take us down that road.

The romance was in fact a lot sweeter than that. For her Hunt Prize project, Marnie ends up meeting a cute guy named Whit who may or may not spark something with her. Of course, with any romance, things don’t go as smoothly as one would hope and the slow burn process they took to putting their feelings out there was excruciating. In the best way possible.

You know what makes this book a winner in my eyes? The fact that Marnie compared this guy to Gilbert Blythe. Making her Anne, of course. Anyone who makes L.M. Montgomery references is a queen in my books.

I will say that the rating was only docked off a bit because of the slow middle. The Hunt Prize competition is the timeline of the book but it gets really detailed on the project at times in the middle that is less relevant to Marnie’s growth and romance. I mean, it was still necessary to have present, but it could’ve been paced better in my opinion.

I really did enjoy Marnie’s journey most of all. It became evident with time that perhaps it wasn’t just her family’s negligence that made her feel lonely, but maybe a little to do with her misperceptions of their intent with her. Maybe they really were trying to help her out of love instead of pity. Marnie wanted to be the opposite of Mary so that she would be likable, loved and worthy. Those are all things I think we as readers can empathize with. So it was wonderful to organically see her come to the conclusion that she was worthy in her own eyes. As Lizzie, as Mary, or…even as just plain old Marnie.

The ending was better than I could’ve asked of it and felt true to these characters. Marnie’s story is one I feel can connect with many people. We all want to be the protagonists in our own stories, but perhaps it’s worth reflecting on what that may mean to us.

Overall Recommendation:

Being Mary Bennet is a great character exploration of our protagonist, Marnie, who wanted to be more like a Lizzie than a Mary Bennet in her story. I felt drawn to the emotional struggles she faced, wanting to feel loved and worthy by her family and seeking out ways to make her stand out among her sisters. I feel Marnie’s internal struggle and journey to self-love is one that many of us can resonate with, in whole or part. With a cute romance on the side that adds an extra layer of sweetness, this is the kind of rom-com that is both lighthearted and meaningful. I had no expectations from JC Peterson coming into this, but I am pleased to have discovered her and look forward to more.


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