Lilly Price (Fanny Price) has been fostered by the Benally family for the past 8 years, since she was 8 years old. Previously to that she lived in a children’s home. Lilly doesn’t fit in with her snobby foster sisters, Lauren and Alexis, and she’s always in trouble with Mr Benally. Mrs Benally doesn’t pay her much attention because she’s always too busy watching TV. Lilly isn’t especially popular at school, but she has one big high point in her life; her foster brother Sean Benally. Sean is a very sweet guy who has always been there for Lilly. She is much closer to him than to her foster sisters.
Sean does have his bad points though; he doesn’t always keep his mouth shut when he should. He thinks that Lilly is unappreciated at Mansfield Ranch and she deserves a nice boyfriend. He thinks that the new neighbours’ son, Harrison Crawford, would make a good match for her. Unfortunately he tells his sisters this and they spread the untrue news that Lilly is pursuing Harrison. This sets their relationship off on a bad footing, and Lilly soon decides that she doesn’t like him. Once Harrison realises that Lilly is serious in her dislike he decides to make her fall in love with him because nobody turns down Harrison Crawford.
This type of book must be hard to write, I think, because it needs to work as a modern book in its own right while still staying true to the original. For me, this one didn’t quite push all the right buttons. Firstly, the family situation was odd. Lilly was ignored by Mrs Benally, blamed for everything by Mr Benally, and ignored by the girls. Lilly seemed to be the only one who did chores and her car was much cheaper than her foster sisters and was actually sold as a punishment to her. It reminded me a bit of Cinderella. I wouldn’t have thought there would be this level of division in a foster family when the point of a foster family is to give a child a normal family life.
In Mansfield Park there is difference in the treatment, but Fanny wasn’t supposed to be treated like the Bertrams’ daughters, and in fact it would have been wrong for them to give her the expectation that her life could be the same as theirs, as she was poorer and lower socially and likely to remain so. These days, that is just not the case, girls are so much freer to make their own way in life. Also, a scenario where a foster brother and sister are romantically involved when they have been living together as siblings since the younger child was 8 is a bit of a grey area, especially when she's only 16 and not an adult at the time of the romance. For me, it has more of an incestuous ‘ick’ factor than first cousins in Regency times with a larger age gap who were brought up as cousins, particularly given the likelihood that Edmund would have gone to boarding school and so been absent for long periods whereas Sean actually lived with Lilly and saw her every day.
Lilly’s personality was very different from Fanny Price – she was feisty, but it went over the line into rude on quite a few occasions and she led on Harrison quite badly, something that Fanny would never have done. Aside from the challenge of a girl who doesn’t like him I am not sure what Harrison saw in her. He gave a list of her good qualities but for me they didn’t come across very strongly, and he only ever sees her at her worst, so how Harrison picked up on this stuff I don’t know.
Lilly doesn’t seem bothered about kissing her step-sister’s boyfriend, which is very different from Fanny’s sense of honour. The whole Lilly/Sean-Fanny/Edmund dynamic and storyline was very different here too – instead of settling for Fanny, which many people complain about in MP, instead here both Sean and Lilly used the Crawford siblings to an extent and I felt greater pity for both of them than I did reading Mansfield Park.
One thing I thought was reflected very well from the original was Lilly’s reason for not wanting to pursue a relationship with Harrison. She doesn’t feel she can trust him:
“I’m sure there are lots of girls willing to get burned by you, but frankly, I don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with a guy who’s just playing games. I want a real guy. A guy who thinks of me first. A guy who’s dependable and nice and caring and well, all the things you’re not.”
There was a point where I thought that the Crawfords would come out blameless victims, but things weren't changed that much!
There are other books in the series which have already been released – Pride and Popularity, Northanger Alibi, Persuaded and Emmalee. From the notes at the back of Mansfield Ranch I noticed that another four books are planned. These are Sensible and Sensational (Sense & Sensibility) and also Sand & Sun, The Wilsons and Queen Sidney (I am presuming these are Austen's Sanditon, The Watsons and Lady Susan respectively, none of which I’ve read yet).