Saturday, April 19, 2014

Early Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik (twitter | website)
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source/Format: eARC from publisher on Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication date: April 22, 2014 
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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.


Review:


I love Austen retellings - I've read and reviewed a few Persuasion ones on this blog, and I would say that The Last Best Kiss is the probably the most realistic one that I've read - in both good and bad ways. It's a contemp that really feels like a slice of life - it is incredibly realistic in voice and character, and it occasionally gets a little bit boring, like real life does sometimes.

If you've read Persuasion, you'll recognize the story and its elements in Claire LaZebnik's version. I'm glad to say that those elements are woven quite seamlessly into this version of the story. Anna's father and older sister are very similar to their Austen counterparts (read: yuck!), and the friends that Anne Elliot has in Austen's version are expanded to become Anna's friend group.

Anna and Finn are cute characters, but I confess that I never felt an overwhelming connection to them. Despite the self-discovery that I mention in the bonuses section later, I never really fully latched on to the romance - the characters just felt a little shallow.

Maybe that's because this is a book focuses not just on the love story, but on high school friendship dynamics and the "typical" stuff that a high school senior deals with: college applications, SATs, counselling, prom - it's all here, and done in a very true-to-life way - almost too true to life. I saw myself so much in their obsessing about college, doing everything to get in, trying to get the best possible grades, study techniques for SATs...for me, these moments were equal parts relateable and squirmy. They reminded me just how annoying and tunnel-visioned I was about college...and I'm not sure those are feelings I want to relive.

Still, I must applaud LaZebnik for absolutely nailing the senior high school experience and the friend dynamic. To me, the dialogue between all of the characters was pretty much spot-on for the conversations I had in high school, and the voices were really authentic.

I also applaud her for being able to juggle that many characters while keeping the flow of the story going. The central conflict of Anna and Finn was done realistically, but slowed down a bit in the lead-up to the climax. For me, that slow down was realistic, because it was just the characters living their lives, but it was also kind of hard to take - I kept thinking to myself, "Was I really this BORING and lacking in personality in high school?" It's not that the characters have no personality, it's that they're so focused on their goals that single-mindedness became their personalities.

It's hard for me to separate my own life experiences from how I felt about this book - it felt so true to my own life, but it also made me really, really relieved that I'm not in that place anymore. Whether you like The Last Best Kiss or not will depend on where you are in life, and how much you like being reminded of the good and bad parts of high school.

Bonuses: 

Articulate Self-Discovery/Hindsight: There are a few moments of quotable brilliance here - moments that really brought home that high school experience and how I thought about and felt things in high school, and I kinda wish that the book wasn't so obvious about them being MOMENTS. In some ways, they almost feel too articulate to be anything but hindsight? Anyway, quotes:

"I love John Green as much as the next gay teen. But the whole manic-pixie-dream-girl thing? It gets a little annoying in real life." 
-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik

"It's hard to be different when you're still trying to figure out who you even are."

-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik


"We both realized we'd been pushing ourselves to do crazier and crazier things because we thought that would make life more intense and interesting. But if you don't let yourself feel what's actually going on at any given moment - if you're always looking for the next rush - you get numb and stop feeling anything."

-The Last Best Kiss, Claire LaZebnik


Nerdy Hot Boys: What I really liked about Finn as the hero is that he was a TOTAL nerd - yeah, between the time when he was a freshman and a senior, he got better clothes and filled out a bit, but he was still exactly the same nerdy guy that Anna fell for at the beginning. He never compromised on his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the natural world and trying to share it with everyone, and in the end, it's that that made him a better match for Anna than anything else.

Art That's Unafraid of Being "Scary": Anna is an artist, and one of the things she battles are assumptions that because her art is a bit creepy and dark, it somehow makes her a dark person or mentally disturbed, and it's definitely not true. This sounds like a pretty simplistic issue, and one that's ridiculous in this day and age, but I have friends who were told similar things in high school about writing, art, music - anything creative - so I'm really glad it was mentioned in the book.

The Final Word: 


I was talking this one over with my husband, and I called this the Robert Altman version of a high school Persuasion retelling - Altman was a movie director who was known for slice-of-life films, making movies that told stories in as realistic - and often boring - a way as possible. The Last Best Kiss was that for me - completely realistic in a lot of ways, but also a little cringeworthy. It's a solid Austen retelling and a cute contemporary, but it's probably not one that I'll be picking up again.

Are you excited for THE LAST BEST KISS? Have you read Claire LaZebnik's other high school retellings Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting? Do you like books that feel a little too true to life? What are your favourite Austen retellings? Hit the comments and let me know!

Do you want to win THE LAST BEST KISS or another April 2014 new release? Sign up here!

3 comments:

  1. I love the sound of the book! Although the cover is... bleh for me, I am very excited to read this! Lovely review! <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Jane Austen retellings and I've enjoyed Claire's previous novels. I sort of like the true to life spin. It makes it easier for all readers to relate regardless of their situation in life.

    ReplyDelete

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