Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnikThe Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik
Published by HarperTeen on April 22, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 374
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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two-half-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.

At this point, it’s seeming as though my love of LaZebnik’s The Trouble with Flirting may have been a fluke. The difference between her Mansfield Park retelling and the other two (Pride and Prejudice in Epic Fail and Persuasion in The Last Best Kiss) is that I didn’t care and in fact thought it was awesome that she made alterations to Mansfield Park. That book is a mess and changes only improve it. Not so with P&P or Persuasion. Oh, LaZebnik puts all the things in basically the right places; they’re very clearly retellings. This retelling fails to capture the emotional resonances of the original. If you are able to separate The Last Best Kiss from Persuasion, it’s a fun read, though not a great one. If you can’t, it’s going to be frustrating. I ended up somewhat liking this one only because I’ve apparently forgotten a good deal of the middle of Persuasion.

The biggest problem with The Last Best Kiss is how the modernization is done. What The Lizzie Bennet Diaries understood, as Gillian (Writer of Wrongs) has very wisely told me, is that a marriage proposal in the past is very akin to a job offer now. See, marriage back then was essentially a woman’s occupation. There often wasn’t love involved. Agreeing to marry was more of a business deal with wives chosen by what they could bring to their husbands. Getting to marry a man you loved, as Austen’s heroines did, was emotionally pretty similar to getting a job offer for your dream job.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot accepts an offer of a marriage from Frederick Wentworth, then a poor naval officer. However, Anne then caves to peer pressure from her father, sister, and friend, which leads her to break the engagement. She was persuaded not to marry him. This is not, however, an illogical decision for Anne. She would be taking a step down in station and would have been pretty promptly left alone while he went off to sail the seas in the navy, probably with a kid and without much money. She didn’t make the romantic decision, but she was afraid to take what was legitimately a huge risk.

In The Last Best Kiss, Anna Eliot dates Finn Westbrook secretly when they’re both freshman. Finn’s short and super nerdy, where Anna is popular. Anna fears everyone will judge her for dating a short, weedy boy with glasses, so she keeps their relationship hidden. Everything culminates in her dissing him publicly at the school dance. While I can see how LaZebnik went for this, the emotional impact is so incredibly different. What Anne did to Wentworth was fail to trust him and to give in to an understandable societal fear; what Anna did to Finn was to treat him like shit. The most obvious difference of course is that everyone knew that Anne wanted to marry Wentworth; he wasn’t a shameful secret.

This change in motivations makes Anna an entirely different sort of girl. Anna is hugely judgmental and focused on popularity, something Anne really wasn’t. In fact, Anna doesn’t come across as a cohesive character at all, probably because she’s being shoehorned into a retelling when her personality doesn’t fit, so sometimes she acts one way and other times another.

The other big character change for the retelling was to Louisa Hargrove, Anne’s romantic competition for the returned and wealthy Wentworth. Louisa becomes Lily, a manicpixiedreamgirl. Louisa is a flirt and not especially likable, but she was standard. Lily on the other hand is a total special snowflake. She has a different ridiculous outfit and/or hairstyle every day. She brings a ukelele to class and teachers let her play it whenever she wants to. She does whatever she want, damn the consequences. The shade-throwing at John Green did ultimately make this an interesting choice, but I also feel like LaZebnik had to make Lily completely insufferable in order to make Anna look better in comparison, since Anna is a lot less likable than Anne.

Finn, on the other hand, is a pretty great guy. He’s a genius, he’s handsome (when he returns in senior year), and he’s pretty good at bantering. Wentworth definitely acts like a bastard sometimes, especially given the fact that Anne did have some legitimate concerns. They both took the blame in Persuasion, where Finn really just comes off as forgiving. LaZebnik tries to make a play like the both messed up, because he wore such a horrible outfit to the dance, but that doesn’t work out. Finn is the victim in this situation. I will say that I did end up mildly shipping them, but it’s not the powerful moment from the end of Persuasion where the two overcome their past issues and accept their feelings.

There are, however, some great aspects to The Last Best Kiss. The book’s pretty diverse. I especially love the treatment of the LGBTQ+ aspects. Molly, Anna’s middle sister, is a lesbian. I like Anna best when she’s interacting with Molly, because she’s endlessly supportive. Even Anna’s father and oldest sister, Lizzie, don’t have any issue with Molly’s sexual orientation, though they do, true to form, say some infuriating things about it maybe being a phase. Despite those comments, they really have no issue. Nor does Anna’s mother. Rarely do coming out stories in YA go down so well and I applaud LaZebnik for this casual acceptance.

Anna also makes a number of casual, healthy comments about weight. She, though judgmental in general, has a sense that certain people look better at different weights. She doesn’t hate skinny girls or fat ones for being that weight. She comments on some women looking better while carrying some extra weight. Her mother, for instance, put on weight after the divorce because she not longer had a husband pressuring her to fit his ideal and Anna thinks she looks better. YA novels often put a really subtle pressure on fitting the societal ideal (aka super thin), so this was refreshing.

Once I was able to stop comparing to Persuasion, The Last Best Kiss was pretty enjoyable. If you know the novel well enough to compare and aren’t able to stop thinking of it as a retelling, it’s going to be frustrating.

Favorite Quote:

“I worry that you’re holding yourself back out of a fear of looking stupid.”

“How nice for you that you don’t have that problem,” I say sweetly.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif persuasion women's fickleness

3 responses to “Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik”

  1. I’ve only read Lazebnik’s Epic Fail, which I honestly thought was pretty fun, if not memorable or amazing. I’ve heard good things about The Trouble of Flirting, but for someone I am nervous to read it. But I’m quite sure this book isn’t for me. Sorry you weren’t in love with this one.

  2. Dragana says:

    Whenever retelling of Persuasions is mentioned imediately For The Darkness Shows The Stars comes to my mind. And I think all other books on this subject are going to feel lacking to me.
    I like all other things you wrote about The Last Best Kiss but I think I will never be able to stop comparing it. :/
    Dragana recently posted…Book Review: The Jewel by Amy EwingMy Profile

  3. MJ says:

    Yeah, I remember not being that enamored this one. I feel like LaZebnik took the bare bones of the original story and instead of fleshing it out like Austen did, just sort of let it flopped. To be honest, I haven’t read a Persuasion retelling that I liked. I know that Dragana mentioned The Darkness Show the Stars and while I wasn’t a huge fan of that book, I do think it was more true to the Austen novel. There were layers there that made it more than a romance between honestly a very unlikable heroine. And I really think that is what a lot of the problem is, Ann Elliott isn’t one of Austen’s better protagonists. I just feel like she’s weak (not so much in the historical context like you mentioned) but in a modern retelling it just really does not work
    MJ recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: I Want It Now!!My Profile

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