Sneak peek review of Alex & Eliza, by Melissa de la Cruz. Being published by Penguin Young Readers Group on April 11, 2017. Teen/YA audience.
Pouncing, no doubt, on Hamilton-mania, Penguin Young Readers is rolling out a novel featuring the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler. What a great idea for engaging our teen/YA readers with exciting American history! If only.
I wanted to like this excerpt so much more than I did! After a dry prologue (solid information, but like a history lecture), the story sets the Schuyler sisters up like any good romance–with stereotypical physical description: “Angelica, the oldest, was a whip-smart, mischievous brunette, with glittering eyes, her pretty lips set in a perpetual smirk. Peggy, the youngest, was a waifish beauty, with a waist so tiny that she rarely bothered with a corset, and alabaster skin set off by a mass of lustrous dark hair that was simply too gorgeous to powder or bury under a wig (no matter what Marie Antoinette was covering her head with at Versailles).”
We first encounter the girls smuggling some fabric for Union uniforms into their home just before a ball commences. Now that has potential! But rather than focusing on those details and using this interesting plot line to draw us into the story, we devolve into girly-banter. We have learned that the girls need to marry well–and quickly–to help restore the family fortunes, and we are introduced to the fact that one Alexander Hamilton will be at the ball that night. The light banter between the sisters is fine, and of course young women of the time must have talked about these things, but I couldn’t help feeling I had opened a Harlequin Historical Romance. (Anytime I’m reading dialogue and come across: “____ bit her lip, doubtful,..” I know I’m in trouble!)
Was this the right choice for setting up the plot and characters? I’d have liked a different approach, especially considering this book is for the teen/YA market; why not give young female readers, especially, more to engage with than a primary focus on clothes and swoon-worthy looks and fortune? Certainly it was true that the sisters’ job was to marry well–but we also know they had other interests; why not approach their story that way, and then bring the romance in as a second and equally important and thrilling story line? The Schuyler sisters were famous for being more than just pretty fortune-hunters–give them some credit!
This librarian will be looking for a better version of this love story to put on the shelves.