Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

Review: Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
Rating: An adorable and breezy modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Not exactly the deepest thing in the world, but delightful and hilarious.

Epic Fail

At Coral Tree Prep in Los Angeles, who your parents are can make or break you. Case in point:

- As the son of Hollywood royalty, Derek Edwards is pretty much prince of the school--not that he deigns to acknowledge many of his loyal subjects.

- As the daughter of the new principal, Elise Benton isn't exactly on everyone's must-sit-next-to-at-lunch list.

When Elise's beautiful sister catches the eye of the prince's best friend, Elise gets to spend a lot of time with Derek, making her the envy of every girl on campus. Except she refuses to fall for any of his rare smiles and instead warms up to his enemy, the surprisingly charming social outcast Webster Grant. But in this hilarious tale of fitting in and flirting, not all snubs are undeserved, not all celebrity brats are bratty, and pride and prejudice can get in the way of true love for only so long

The cover: I think it's cute! It's sort of vaguely Sarah Dessen-esque as well. I also think it does a really good job of portraying what kind of book this is. Flirty, fun, and funny.

The story: Considering the fact that Epic Fail is walking on hallowed ground, this is a pretty enjoyable read. I am always both excited and leery when I hear about books about or inspired by Jane Austen. As previously established, I'm a hardcore Janeite. Pride and Prejudice and I go way back. And in general, I love retellings of things. I mean, I loved For Darkness Shows the Stars, which was a post-apocalyptic retelling of Austen's Persuasion, so a cute YA version of Pride and Prejudice might not be all bad. Maybe it'll be like a high school version of Bridget Jones' Diary.

Adapting Jane Austen: jumping in may look fun and exciting,
but be careful. It's harder than it looks #wordplayFTW

Well, obviously, Bridget Jones it's not (because nothing is), but I had a blast reading Epic Fail. It zips along at a somewhat admirable pace. I was amazed at how quickly it was moving. I know the plot of P & P so well that I have every development memorized, and it was fun to see how LaZebnik reinterpreted and condensed things. What I loved about this book is that it also managed to capture one of the things I love best about Jane: her sense of humor.

This book is so funny. Elise, the main character, is a hoot. She and her sisters Juliana, Layla, and Caitlyn (there is no Mary... poor Mary. People are always forgetting about her) have just moved from Massachusetts to Los Angeles, and they're having some trouble adjusting. I love Elise. She's completely confident in herself, and while her hideous lapses in judgment are annoying, that's how the plot goes, unfortunately. She, obviously, is the Elizabeth Bennet of the story. It's sadly inevitable than any heroine compared with Elizabeth, Original Flavor, is going to come out the lesser. But how can you not love a girl who routinely says things like the following, and out loud, rather than in her head like the average YA protagonist, blessed with a biting and witty inner-monologue but a shy tongue?

After her new friends find out she's the daughter of the new principal AND the new math teacher:

“For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure we’re not related to any of the lunch ladies,” I [Elise] said.
“Too bad.” Chase turned to me with his ready smile. “I could use an in at the cafeteria.”
“The sandwich lady does owe me a huge favor.”
That actually caught Derek’s interest. He looked up. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “But it’s a long story— involves this knife fight in Brussels back during the war. She was smuggling, I was a double agent for the resistance…The usual.”
“Is she always this nuts?” Chase asked Juliana.
“Pretty much.”
“I’m hurt you don’t believe me,” I said.

That was actually the line of dialogue that won me over. I was sort of reading this dubiously, not quite sure about it (I'll get to the why in a second), but then Elise said that and I was like I LOVE HER (and also I maybe am her). She's just a sparkling conversationalist, and the humor is more than sarcasm. It's just fun and exuberant. Oh, also this:

“You knew the Oscar Wilde quote,” I said.
“You like Wilde?”
“Sure. He was tortured, brilliant, funny, gay…basically my dream guy.”
“Even the gay part?” he said with the ghost of a smile— which for all I knew was what passed for hysterical mirth with this guy.
“Especially the gay part,” I said. “I’m weird that way.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“I’m beginning to think it’s not a good long-term romantic strategy.”

Warning: Since I've memorized read Pride and Prejudice, I can only review Epic Fail from the point of view of someone intimately familiar with the original novel. I may give away some minor plot points from Pride and Prejudice. If you're worried about having the it spoiled for you, please go and pick up a copy and start reading immediately, because I don't even know what you've been doing with your life all these years.

And then DARCY DIES.

So, yeah. Elise and Derek (our swoony Darcy equivalent) meet, and Elise immediately thinks he's a spoiled Hollywood brat who thinks he's better than everybody. Juliana hits it off with Chase, aka Mr. Bingley and Derek's best friend, while incurring the wrath of the pernicious Chelsea, Chase's sister. This book was exactly how you wish high school to be. It was light, fun, cute, and flirty. The obstacles Elise faces are minor but relatable: the Benton parents are horribly strict and somewhat unfair, Layla is a trial, the boys in her life are way confusing, her new school is insane, and her beloved elder sister is about to get her heart broken. This is the opposite of a Contemporary Issue book. This book had no issues. There was no darkness or grittiness, barely even shadows. But that was also part of it's charm. Fun is fun! So is laughing. So is squee-inducing teen romance.

I did have some quibbles. One being that I thought it was plainly obvious that Derek was a good guy, rather than Webster (aka Wickham, the original douchus magnificus). In P&P, despite the fact that we can actually see into Darcy's head at times, we can fully understand why Elizabeth does not exactly warm to the guy (HE CALLED HER ONLY TOLERABLE). We don't really get that with Derek and Elise. The narrative was all first-person Elise, but I felt like I understood and liked Derek immediately. Maybe this was just because I knew how everything would work out. I don't know. But I knew how the story would progress, so I went along with Elise's horrible misjudgments of everybody, even when they made me cringe. Because Derek and Elise are Cute with a capital C. Seriously. Adorable couple.

Another quibble I had was the lack of depth. Now, I didn't expect or want deep, metaphysical angst from this book. I didn't want any of the characters to suddenly become suicidal. But the stakes felt pretty low most of the way through. Things happened, but they didn't have a lot of emotional resonance. For example, the biggest, most dramatic thing Jane Austen every wrote about is what happens to the Lydia character in P&P. It's HIGH DRAMA. MUY ESCANDALOUS. It nearly wrecks Elizabeth's and Jane's lives, but it's also the catalyst towards Elizabeth and Darcy finally uniting. So I was expecting BIG THINGS from that point in Epic Fail. Sadly, it was kind of... wait for it... an epic fail. I mean, it made sense, but it was cleared away in about five pages. It wasn't a big event. It wasn't an event at all. It had no impact on any of the characters. And that's kind of how most of the issues got resolved in Epic Fail: quickly and with little effort. That also made reading Epic Fail a low-stress experiencing, so there's something to be said for it.

My last quibble is not really a quibble, but a personal detour into Gillian Land. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I went to a private high school eerily similar to the one described in Epic Fail. I did some research (okay, I Googled) and found out that the author also lives in LA and is therefore pretty familiar with my city. I couldn't quite decide how I felt about Coral Tree, Elise's fictional school with a monumentally stupid name. It was both really accurate (designer clothes, sushi in the cafeteria YES REALLY, the stupid name, the Hollywood children, the cars in the school parking lot) and also a complete exaggeration (all the girls wear heels to school every day, for example. Um, no. This is Los Angeles. That would wreck your feet. No one wants wrecked feet in a place where it's sandal weather twelve months out of the year). Chelsea, the Miss Bingley character, was a total stereotype of the rich LA mean girl, and while parts of her were accurate and she was definitely cartoonishly hilarious, she was wholly unrealistic. Which might have been the point, actually.

So I both loved the way LaZebnik skewered how truly silly my fame-obsessed city can be and was a little offended. Yeah, a lot of people here are focused on image and wealth and will suck up to anybody remotely connected to a person of Hollywood import (I once had a guy PITCH HIS MOVIE TO ME just because I told him I went to elementary school with a director's son. And I am a big fat nobody, I promise you). But there's more to LA than that. Again, Coral Tree wasn't exactly my school. My school was way more scholastically focused and not nearly as amusing, sadly. But I just thought I ought to mention it.

If you can't get enough of the story of Pride and Prejudice, but don't mind seeing some things altered (no Mr. Collins or Colonel Fitzwilliams), I recommend picking up Epic Fail. If you want a carefree afternoon full of laughs and shameless squealing at the cuteness, and maybe some rolling of the eyes at how totally silly we yoga-obsessed, wheatgrass-drinking, sushi-gobbling Los Angelenos can be, definitely give this a shot. It improved my mood by about a thousand percent and a giggled out loud through nearly the whole thing. Elise is one of the funniest narrators I've come across in a while. And the Darcy-ness of it all doesn't suck, either.

An absolute bald-faced lie.


  1. In the words of Lydia from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, "This sounds adorbs, am I right?!"

    Okay, I had to do that.

    But seriously, I've been wanting to read this one for a while. Sadly, my library doesn't have it. I think if I focus on the cuteness of it and the humorous side, hopefully I won't be sorely disappointed with its lack of depth. The other part is about LA. It seems like whenever somebody writes about your city, they always make it out to be in some snooty private school with snooty, unrealistically snobs of girls (for ex: girls who immediately target the new girl and wear high heels and dresses). However, besides the quibbles, I think I'll enjoy it and I look forward to reading it :)

    LOVE your review!

  2. I loved this book! It was so cute! I read it in one day!

  3. I really enjoyed this book! I'm a huge fan of Pride & Prejudice (first Austen novel I read) and I've been reading adaptations of it like crazy. This was definitely fun and I'll read it again at some point but...I don't like how the ending was. I like the ending as is except for the fact of someone going off to college and its never addressed regarding if or how the two are going to make it work!!!! That drives me crazy....and come to think of it, there was also no Lady Catherine or Anne de Bourgh :p both of whom I would've rather liked to have seen worked in to this version. Great review!!!!!


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