Monday, March 24, 2014

The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

The Last Best Kiss
by Claire LaZebnik
Read: January 6 - 7, 2014
Published: April 22, 2014 by HarperTeen **UPCOMING**
Category: Contemporary YA, Austen retelling

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.

Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.

All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.

Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too....

With her signature wit and expertly authentic teen voice, Claire LaZebnik (the author of fan favorites Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting) once again breathes new life into a perennially popular love story. Fans of Polly Shulman, Maureen Johnson, and, of course, Jane Austen will love this irresistibly funny and romantic tale of first loves and second chances.

I'm a fan of modern takes on classic stories, especially those inspired by the works of Jane Austen. But inevitably, I always feel like they miss their mark in some way. There's just no way to perfectly recreate the magic from the original story. Persuasion is one of my favorite books, though I haven't read a lot of adaptations of it. I was really excited to discover that Clare LaZebnik was going to tackle it in The Last Best Kiss. Overall I was pleasantly surprised with this retelling of Persuasion, though some elements didn't work for me. 

First, this story works very well in a high school setting. Not only does it actually seem like high school today - the fashion, phones and culture - but the story set up was believable. A girl just entering ninth grade likes a geeky boy, and he likes her, but she is ashamed to tell her popular friends about him. This rejection costs her his affection, and soon after the boy leaves the area with his parents. He comes back three years later right before their senior year, only to have grown up and not be quite so dorky anymore. The girl feels bad about how she treated him in the past and wants desperately to reconnect with him, but he doesn't want anything to do with her. It get's harder when he becomes part of her group of friends and seems to maybe be interested in one of them. 

This girl's name is Anna and I felt all of her raw emotions in this book. Her shame and embarrassment at how she'd treated Finn in the past, as well as her desire to fix what she'd destroyed, oozed off the page. Although Anna's initial rejection of Finn is so hard to watch, it felt honest, and I could completely sympathize with her. She is a young high school girl who feels left out at home and is desperately trying to fit in with her friends. Finn's anger and hurt at Anna is equally understandable. I loved the tension between them throughout this book, and the fact that he isn't perfect either. 

Although the beginning of this book worked very well as an adaptation - I could feel Anna's emotions intensely - where this book faltered for me was the author's attempts to stick to the some of the side plots from the original story. As I've read more adaptations of classics and fairy tales, I've discovered that my favorites are ones that take the spirit of the original tale and adapt it to a new story, as opposed to trying to stick to all of the original elements. Updated in this contemporary high school setting, some of the details from Persuasion didn't work as well for me. They didn't make sense except that they came from the first story. Especially the inclusion of Ginny and the drama surrounding her relationship with Anna's father. However, I really like what the author did with Anna's sister's Molly's storyline and the parallels it provided to Anna's experiences. 

One of my favorite moments in Persuasion is the explosive end where Anne gets the letter from Captain Wentworth that proves his love. Of course, I was hoping for something equally climactic at the end of The Last Best Kiss. What we actually get isn't that profound, though the end is sweet and gives us a chance to enjoy Finn and Anna together. However, I did feel like the story extended past when it needed to, in order to wrap up some of the side plots. Still, as a whole I enjoyed this contemporary YA retelling of Persuasion

Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone


  1. Oh, based on the cover it doesn't really.. idk. Feel like that this story contains much hurt and drama. I actually like the sound of this and the flawed characters as well. I'm sorry the retelling elements weren't really your cup of tea in this novel, but I'm glad you did like this book.

  2. Unlike you, I've grown to detest re-tellings of classic tales of literature. Persuasion, as my favorite Austen novel, never manages to charm me in modern or fantasy settings. With Diana Peterfreund's DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, I was increasingly distanced from the characters themselves, confused about their motives despite enjoying the world-building. With this novel, I can already sense that though the high school setting works well, aspects of the plot that bothered you would likely bite me ten-fold. I cannot seem to separate in my mind classics from their re-tellings such that when I pick up these fluffy, YA works, I inevitably face disappointment. I've enjoyed the P&P-like tension and banter between romantic leads in many novels and films, but any specific adaptation of it keeps falling short for me. Still, I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Lauren, and I'm hoping that it, at any rate, encourages more teenage readers to pick up the original as well.

  3. I like retellings but they really have to wow me to make my happy list. I feel for poor Finn, to be rejected for being nerdy by a girl who wasn't confident enough to stand up to her friends. But at least Anna felt bad and embarrassed about it! And can I just add that I wish the art of the letter wasn't on life support, gasping for breath. There's something so profound about getting a handwritten note in the mail. It would have made for a good ending.

  4. I love Persuasion retellings as well, my favorite probably being For Darkness Shows the Stars. Have you read that one, Lauren?
    I'm glad that you enjoyed this one overall, but it's a shame that some of the side stories didn't really make sense. I need to get myself a copy of this book because it sounds pretty much perfect for me. And I'm with you, that last scene in Persuasion is definitely my favorite!
    Lovely review, Lauren!

  5. I haven't read Persuasion, so I wouldn't be able to compare the two, but I'm with you in what you said about retellings. I like the ones that take the original and twist it into something new, without necessarily checking every single box of original story elements along the way. Too bad the ending wasn't as strong as Austen's was, but I'm glad you enjoyed this one overall Lauren!

  6. I read Persuasion so long ago and because I have a copy of this book I'm kind of tempted to re-read Persuasion again before I read this book, but at the same time, I don't want to be continually making comparisons between the two books :( I'm glad that despite some issues you were able to enjoy this book overall Lauren, Finn and Anna do seem like fantastic characters and their story a really fun one!

  7. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! I'm assuming the "mild" comes from the fact that Finn appears to like someone else? I absolutely adore Persuasion, but I don't usually have a problem separating classics from re-tellings; I can treat them as standalones, as long as the quality is there. Have you read For Darkness Shows the Stars? That's an excellent retelling of Persuasion as well!

  8. The tile and synopsis sounds really cute. I'm the type that likes the high school setting romance. And I really do want to see how this book plays out. I've never tried a classic retelling because I don't really like classics, but I'll definitely give this a try.

    Great review though! I wish I can explain as thorough and clear as you! :) Haha.

    Cindy @ In This World of Books..

  9. This sounds so cute! I'm a total sucker for covers showing headless bodies with feet facing each other too. Weird - I know. lol

  10. Unlike you i'm not a huge fan of retellings of great literature. I've read only a few of them before and i only enjoyed a handful of them. I feel they can be awkward especelly once put in a high school setting but i'm glad that's one aspect that worked in favour of this book. I don't know if i'll be picking it up but it does sound entertaining.
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

  11. I felt similarly about this book, L. I really loved LaZebnik's retelling of Mansfield Park in The Trouble with Flirting--that book was AWESOME--but I failed to connect with The Last Best Kiss in the same way. There were elements I enjoyed but then there were others that felt a little contrived. Still, I really like this author and love that she is working her way through Austen's classics. Wonder what will be next? :)

  12. At first I was against reading LaZebnik's books because I'm not sure how well Austen's stories can be translated to teens in modern-day situations. As you said, I just don't think Austen retellings do that well in general. I am intrigued, but I don't like the fact that the "problem" with Anne and Wentworth's relationship is relegated to something as minor as him being "geeky." The problems their relationship faces in Persuasion are so much greater than that. Maybe that's me being picky, though. If I did read one of LaZebnik's retellings, which one would you suggest I start with?


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