The cute, high school, math nerd retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma I didn’t know I needed, The Code for Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor gives me all the happy vibes of the original.
Emma Woodhouse spends all of her time coding, because math makes more sense than people do. Her one constant companion is her older sister, Izzy, but Izzy is leaving her for college on the other side of the country. Before she goes, she advises Emma to make some friends… and a boyfriend.
Without Izzy, Emma focuses all her energy on the coding club, of which she is co-president with longtime friend George Knightley. Last year, they came in third place at the state competition, but this year, Emma is determined to win so she can put it on her Stanford application. But can she come up with an idea good enough?
Emma is starting to doubt that Stanford is in the cards for her. Her counsellor advises her to socialize more, because without extracurriculars, she’s just another math brain to the admissions board. Even if she gets in, however, she still might want to stay on the East Coast to be near her widowed father, who struggles to care for himself.
Finally, Emma comes up with a brilliant way to be both more social and also win the state competition… an app that mathematically finds your perfect match. If Emma can break human relationships down into something quantifiable, maybe then she can understand them. At first, George isn’t wild about the idea, but he eventually comes around and helps her create the app.
Of course, as most of us know, love isn’t quantifiable. Although the app is an instant hit, creating scores of happy couples, it doesn’t last. Couples that were perfect for each other break up, and people who aren’t perfect for each other get together. Worst of all, George has started dating his perfect match, their classmate, Hannah, which shouldn’t bother her, except that it does. Has Emma’s app failed? Was she wrong about everything? And how can she make it right?
Emma is one of my all-time favorite classics, so I had high hopes for this retelling, and I was not disappointed. Yes, it’s predictable, but I find most retellings predictable. Neither is it incredibly profound, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a sweet, fun rom-com that’s a quick read, so don’t expect anything more from it, but I personally fully enjoyed it.
This particular Austen novel lends itself well to modern adaptations. I’m a huge fan of both Emma Approved and Clueless, and this novel reminds me of the latter, but with a nerdy twist. Making Emma a math nerd is never a change that would have occurred to me, but it worked so well! Instead of being popular and stylish, the way modern Emmas are usually played, being a nerd really capitalizes on how awkward and naive Emma really is. The reason why she makes so many mistakes in her quest to matchmake is because she genuinely has no idea how people work. I loved seeing her grow as a character, from being totally clueless at the beginning to finally realizing what she’s doing wrong and working to fix it at the end.
I also loved Emma’s relationships with all the different characters, especially her sister and George. Since Emma doesn’t have any other friends, she and Izzy are very codependent, but as the novel progresses and Emma grows close with the other girls in the coding club, she starts to become her own person, even standing up to her sister later, when Izzy wants Emma to come to a party, and Emma says no. I will also always and forever adore George Knightley in any form, and this modern version did not disappoint. He tells Emma when he disagrees with her and has honest conversations about it, and yet he’s always there for her when she needs it, even driving her to the hospital and caring for her when her dad gets sick. I’ll admit, it takes forever for these two to get together, but when they finally do, I feel all the feels.
I highly recommend that you add this lovely book to your TBR list, whether you’re a fan of the original Emma, Clueless, or just rom-coms in general. It’s a quick read and a true delight.