Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: The Last Bess Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik
Release date: April 22nd, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: No
Source: e-ARC via Edelweiss
Length: 320 pages
Rating: A sweet, funny, pretty wonderful contemporary that mostly succeeds as an Austen adaptation.


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.

For the record, I am a huge Janeite. I am the girl they make all the Mr. Darcy  mugs and Emma purses and Austenland novels for. If I see a book is in any way tangentially connected to Jane Austen, I will read that book. I'm not sure if that makes me more inclined to love that book or less, but I will certainly not be able to judge that book without bringing my love for Jane Austen into it.

Which means I can only judge The Last Bess Kiss from the viewpoint of someone who basically has Persuasion, the novel that it's based on, memorized. If you'd like to read a really excellent positive review of TLBK from someone who's never read a word of Jane Austen, I'd recommend checking out Rachel's review. But me? It's hard to pull Anne Elliot out of my thoughts while reading a modern update of her story.

But man, did I really enjoy this story. I'll get into the nitty gritty of the actual adaptation part of it, but reading LaZebnik's stories is always such a delight. Her characters are so fun and funny, and I can say with complete authority that her depiction of private school Los Angeles life is very accurate. It's fun to read books set in the world you grew up in sometimes, especially when it pokes gentle fun but doesn't lambast it. Anna and her friends worry about grades and SATs and college and boys and all the things real teenagers do. They sound and act like real teenagers, albeit cool, rich, mutliethnic teenagers who go to musical festivals and whatnot, but you know.

In The Last Best Kiss, Anne Elliot from Persuasion becomes Anna Elliot, a quiet, creative girl who made the error of bowing to peer pressure at a very critical romantic juncture in ninth grade. Anna cruelly broke things off with Finn, a sweet and TOTALLY ADORABLE nerd, and then Finn left town full of very hard feelings. And then, what do you know! He is back! And he is HOT. And he still bears a serious grudge, even though Anna, over the four years they've been separated, has come to learn the error of her ways. And now poor Anna has to watch him pointedly flirt with one of her best friends as he gives her the cold shoulder.

First, I judge the story for what it is and say i really, really loved this book. I read it straight through, and I laughed quite a bit. I didn't laugh as much as I did in LaZebnik's Pride and Prejudice update, Epic Fail, but I'd say that The Last Best Kiss is a much more mature novel on LaZebnik's part (very much like how Persuasion is a more mature novel than Pride and Prejudice is). Anna is overlooked by her father and her sister. She is very close with her other older sister (who is a lesbian--hurrah for diversity!), but that sister is off at college, leaving Anna alone with her neglectful, self-absorbed lawyer dad.

I will knock off some points for the use of the word "exotic" to describe a half-Asian girl's eyes. Can we end that, please? But other than tat, I really loved how LaZebnik handled Anna and Finn's emotional journey. I loved watching Finn come to see Anna's merits and learn that sometimes doing whatever you want all the time and not listening to other people's opinions is not the way to go. And I especially loved how LaZebnik dealt with the flawed idea of manic pixie dream girls. So well done. And the romanticals! The romanticals are sooo romantical.

Now, I shall judge as an adaptation. I mostly loved this update of the story and found it to be very true to the emotional plot of the book, especially where Anna and Finn were concerned. I think the only niggle I had was how MUCH blame Anna shouldered for cutting things off with Finn, right up to the end. Yes, she was in the wrong, but in the original Persuasion, you come to learn that Anne was not totally in the wrong for breaking off her engagement to Wentworth. The circumstances for Anna and Anne are different enough that this nuance was kind of ruined, but it didn't really impact my enjoyment of The Last Best Kiss, and probably only diehards like me are even going to think about it, soooo moving on.

I think you should totally check this book out when it releases tomorrow. And if it encourages you to read some Jane Austen yourself, well, all the better. Here is some Captain Wentworth to help you make your decision.


  1. Love this review and agree with almost every word. I especially agree with liking what she did with the whole manic-pixie-dream-girl plot line.

    I too found it interesting how she made Anna far more culpable than Anne was. Anne actually had some very good reasons for calling off her engagement. As someone who loves all things Austen too, I actually didn't mind this though because it made Finn more sympathetic. One flaw I think the original suffers from is the fact that Anne did have good reasons, and Wentworth holding on to his grudge for so long and doing SO MANY childish things makes him seem almost unworthy of her. But he's not my fav Austen hero by a long shot. Interestingly I taught Persuasion to a group of high school students this year and the boys were all: This guy is an idiot. She deserves better than him. (They all really loved Anne. And they all though the scene where Lucy is inured was ridiculous. And if 16 year old boys think you are behaving ridiculously....)

    Anyway, I think this one pushes them both toward a better middle? She messes up but learns. He holds on to his grudge far longer than necessary and messes with Lily when he shouldn't, but isn't quite so big an idiot. I am wondering now if maybe she did make him a little TOO good? Hmmmm......

    Sorry for the length. Thanks for letting me think this through more in your comments section. :)

  2. I wish I would have loved this one as much as you did. I think it's just that I'm not a huge Persuasion fan. I love Austen though, just not this story. But I did love the music fest and Anna and Finn relationship. They are pretty darn cute together! Great review!

    1. Aw, I wish you'd liked it as much as I did, too! Also booo, Cristianna, Persuasion is amazing :) But yes! I knew you'd like the music festival!

  3. I am sorta terrified to read this book. I adore Persuasion, but I'm nervous to see it in a contemporary YA setting. All the little things that didn't bother me in the classic I'm worried will be way worse for my stress in this adaptation. But it gives me comfort that Finn and Anna's emotional journey worked for you! Thanks for your review - another great one. :)

    1. It's not a totally perfect adaptation, because there's no such thing, but I found it a very good one. I hope you muster up the courage to try it!

  4. I feel like I could have written that whole paragraph about being a Janeite myself! I'm that girl, too. I have a huge stack of Austen non-fiction that I still haven't read but can't resist buying BECAUSE DUH.

    And I have read so manyyyyy spin-offs and retellings of her books that I've been a little more cautious and wary of them lately. But you've got me really interested in this one, I'm not going to lie. And since Epic Fail is only $1.99 for Kindle... I think I've found something new to read!

    1. Also, I recognize this review isn't for Epic Fail but I clicked over to your review of that one and read it, too. So the comment made sense in my head! But after that one I'll probably then read this one because then I'll love these spin-offs and won't be able to resist.


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