Reputation by Lex Croucher has been hyped as “a classic romcom with a Regency-era twist, for fans of Mean Girls and/or Jane Austen,” the marketing for this book seem very pointed aimed at this book being the pick-me of Regency romance (she’s not like other girls!), but does it hold up?
Reputation is ambitious in trying to maintain those familiar notes and threads of a romance, while clearly trying to amp up the drama to soap opera levels. I’m not necessarily a fan of the “naive character gets caught up with rich friends and learns hard lessons” plot (unless it’s the pure wannabe-Gothic thrill of Northanger Abbey), but I did find myself charmed by moments of sensuality and swept up into the complex relationships between certain characters.
The audiobook is definitely worth checking out, and the narrator (Bessie Carter, known for her role as Prudence Featherington in Bridgerton) sounds like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey when she reads certain characters. It just adds a layer of snobbery to some of these characters.
The book (spoilers ahead)
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I don’t think the apt comparison is Mean Girls. It feels like Emma, Northanger Abbey, Gossip Girl, Atonement and even some Vanity Fair mixed in. With a big splash of Gilmore Girls (the seasons when Rory goes off to be a shitshow with Logan). There’s high stakes society drama, there’s drinking, there’s bright young things pushing against the constraints of the upper class rules, there’s sex (and there’s non-consensual moments as well, FYI! Please check out the CWs on Goodreads before reading).
Even after reading it, I still don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t love it, that’s for sure though.
Georgiana Ellers, the middle class girl staying in town with her aunt and uncle (absentish parents really solidifies this Northanger Abbey vibe), makes fast friends with the wealthy Frances Campbell (think Isabelle Thorpe but actually popular). Georgiana is swept up into the rich kid circle, think Gossip Girl here, and she quickly learns she’s gotta tiptoe around feelings, because despite her lack of income making her soooo not a threat to these girls, they circle her like harpies, waiting to bite when she doesn’t follow all their little rules.
This gets intense and heavy in a way Mean Girls only hints at IMO. The drinking and drug use lean more toward the harshness of disenchanted teen dramas than pretty, pink commentaries. Much like Northanger, Georgiana is in very real, very severe danger in many ways.
There is a sapphic romance happening, but it’s not the main plot. I almost wish the main character had been one of the ladies in that romance, but here we are. We get other queer characters throughout and I hope if the author is writing more, we get to focus on more intriguing characters. There are also BIPOC characters in this story, but in terms of “good representation” well… that is up for debate. I really think I would have felt differently if they’d been the heroine or hero we followed as the POV character.
Ultimately I think this book tries to do a lot of things, while still staying in the lane of a traditionally Regency romance, but there’s just too much going on in terms of the writing. It felt like the author couldn’t decide what she wanted this book to be, who she wanted to be most interesting. I do think there were interesting relationships and identities to explore, but it felt like so much was crammed into the end that you could blink and miss some wrap-ups.
What you should drink with this: Rosé until you feel so hungover for the characters, then grab a coffee.
Who should read this: Fans of Gossip Girl, Atonement, and high drama. Rory Gilmore’s Logan years.
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