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The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

The Last Best Kiss

by Claire LaZebnik

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For more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.

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. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Aug 26, 2014 |
Another cute teen novel by Clair LaZebnik, with another nod to Jane Austen. Anna Eliot ignores fellow car-pooler and almost boyfriend freshman year at a dance, only to have Finn Westbrook move away and arrive back in time for senior year. Naturally, he falls into the group of friends Anna is a part of, seemingly entranced by her friend Lily's wiles. With the bare bones of Persuasion in the background, Anna faces obstacles that a different Anne Elliot could never have dreamed of. I liked LaZebnik's inclusion of a distant cousin, who may or may not have designs on Anna. ( )
  ethel55 | Jul 27, 2014 |
Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: Cute book but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Opening Sentence: On nights when I’m honest with myself, I can admit that Finn Westbrook was the best thing about my ninth grade year.

The Review:

Anna Elliot has always been a shy girl that doesn’t like confrontation. She has always had a great group of friends, but she hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to boys. There has only been one boy she has ever really liked but that was back in ninth grade. His name was Finn Westbrook and he was a dorky boy that she met in her carpool. She knows that he wasn’t the cutest boy or the funniest, but there was just something about him that captured Anna’s heart. But Finn wasn’t the type of boy a girl like Anna was supposed to like. Her friends and family would never approve of her dating someone that was so uncool, so instead of sticking up for Finn, Anna made the mistake of breaking his heart. Shortly after that his family moved away and she hasn’t seen him since.

Just a few days before senior year starts Finn moves back to town and Anna wants nothing more than to apologize for how she treated him. But he has made it very clear he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Anna. Finn is no longer the geeky boy Anna fell for all those years ago. He has become quite a catch and all the girls in school are infatuated with him. He starts dating a pretty, outgoing girl that doesn’t care what others think of her, and she happens to be one of Anna’s best friends. They can’t completely avoid each other since they have the same group of friends, but Anna is determined to make things as normal as possible. It’s too bad she is still harboring feelings for him even though she knows he will never feel the same way about her ever again.

Anna was a sweet girl and she is very easily persuaded by others. While this worked really well in the original story, I actually didn’t like this about Anna. She is a go with the flow type of person and it made her a little boring. Also, it is hard to respect someone that will let others dictate all their decisions. She does get better as she gets older, but she has a very timid personality which just automatically makes her more of a follower. She has some good qualities as well like how caring she is and she is also very humble. She tries really hard to be a good person and she does learn from her mistakes which made me like her more. Overall, I did end up liking her even though she had some really big flaws.

Finn was an interesting love interest and I had some of the same issues with him that I had with Anna. He fit the character he was suppose to be perfectly but instead of him being a swoony guy he just came across as a jerk to me. I felt that in the original story Westbrook was easy to forgive because he was still a good guy, Finn on the other hand just came across as more of a petty jerk than anything else. He gets better at the end but I felt it was a little too late for me to really love him as much as I wanted to. He did have some good moments where he would start to grow on me then he would do something stupid that would make me like him even less then I did before. In the end, I had a hard time with Finn which was very unfortunate because I really wanted to love him.

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen and Persuasion is probably my favorite of all her books, so I was so excited to read this retelling of it, but sadly it wasn’t what I was hoping for. I’m not saying it was a bad book because it was still a cute read, but I have decided that this story is just doesn’t work very well in a modern day setting. I have read multiple retellings of this story and the only ones I have really liked have either been set in a totally different world or set during the time period the book was written in. I just think that when you try to make it modern the story becomes cliché and the characters aren’t nearly as charming in a modern day setting as they were in the original story. With all of that being said, I still enjoyed reading this book, it just wasn’t as good as I had built it up to be. I have really enjoyed some of LaZebnik’s other Austen retellings and will be reading anything else that she comes out with. I would recommend this to anyone that is looking for a cute and fast read.

Notable Scene:

And that’s when she starts barking—so sharply and furiously that I instantly cringe back. “Stop it!” I say. “Just stop it!” And since I’m shouting, anyway, I scream for Phoebe. Possibly a little hysterically.

The dog crouches, ready to spring at me—at least I think she is—so I back up, my arms going up to shield my face, but before she can move, she’s suddenly pulled back. She turns her head, snapping furiously at whoever’s got her—which is Finn. He’s there, in the door way, dragging the dog back, and while he’s wrestling her, he manages to get out a panted and urgent, “Are you okay?” and I say, “I’m fine.” He yells over his shoulder for Phoebe to help him control the dog, and she appears, shoving past the other kids who are piling up in the hallway to see what’s going on. She says, “Stop it, Rowley! Stop it now!” and the dog seems to respond at least a little bit to her name, because she stops snap ping and just glares at everyone and especially at Finn, who’s desperately trying to keep hold of her without getting bitten. “Little help here, Phoebe?” he says urgently. She reaches down, and he transfers the collar to her with an audible sigh of relief, backing quickly away.

He says to me again, “Are you okay?” and again I tell him I am

FTC Advisory: Harper Teen provided me with a copy of The Last Best Kiss. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review. ( )
  DarkFaerieTales | Jul 22, 2014 |
I am all smiles right now. Much better than Epic Fail, & as good as The Trouble with Flirting. ( )
  Stormydawnc | Jun 23, 2014 |
I simply love Ms. Claire’s writing style: engaging, fresh and funny. When I read Epic Fail, I immediately fell in love with Ms. Claire’s books and when I found out that she was releasing a new book I had a mini heart attack!
When I heard the news, I knew that The Last Best Kiss was going to be a delightful read and a promise of a new, refreshing and sweet love story.

Three years ago, when Anna was a freshman at high school, she started to like a boy, a nerdy and short boy, Finn. Finn was the only that really get Anna; he was sweet, smart and different.
They used to hang out together, out of her friend’s sight; everything was fun and then, he kissed her, and she liked it, a lot. They started to date, but in secret because of Finn’s popularity, or lack of it. But even a sweet guy like Finn has a limit; he couldn’t stand being humiliated for so long, so he left and never speak to her again.
Now, three years after the big humiliation, Finn is back, taller and hotter and Anna can’t stop her feelings of guilt and the kiss, her best kiss ever.
Anna wants him to forgive her, to see that she’s no longer the girl she was before –the one that cared so much of what other thought about her– and maybe got him back. But how can he forget what she did to him? And more important, how can he forgive her?

At first, I was really angry when I was reading the first chapters, how Anna rejected and humiliated Finn. I really disliked her, but still loved her. Let me explain, I really despised her attitude but I loved how she tried to fit in, or more like I loved how the author managed to reflect the behavior of a teenager girl trying to make herself a place in high school; she wasn’t a bad person, but neither was she the best. She knew what she was doing to Finn, and she knew it was wrong, but she didn’t do anything about it, which added to my hate-love feelings for her.
But then, we see her change of attitude, how she realized that she should have stood up for Finn and that if she had the chance to go back she would have done things different. So when Finn is back she tries to make amend with Finn, unsuccessfully at first, and that’s when I realized that she wasn’t that bad; she was just a messy girl with a messy family and that needed to grow up. There was even a time that I really felt sorry for Anna, because she was trying so hard to make Finn see that she was deeply sorry and that she was only looking for his forgiveness and friendship (or more! a girl can dream right?) and he was a hard nut to crack!
Yes, he was playing hard to get, and he had his reasons –obviously–, and no, it wasn’t as if he was making fun of her or humiliating her; he just ignored her and pretended like she wasn’t the one who broke his heart and that she had meant nothing to him, which for Anna was worst because he really meant something for her, he was her best kiss after all.
As the book progressed, I have the chance to see, trough Anna’s eyes, how their (new?) relationship developed, how his and hers feelings were growing; it was cute to see their character and their romance grow and fall in love again.

Even when I loved-hated the first Anna (the one that wasn’t such a good girl) and the first part of the book, it was somehow confusing, beside talking about Finn and how she screwed up, she talks about other things and made it a little bit difficult to follow the story. But don’t panic, with patience, a good brain, and a good seat it can be really pleasant, and it doesn’t last for so long.

Overall, The Last Best Kiss was a gratifying and romantic book about mistakes and falling in love. I would recommend TLBK to those who love sweet and not so complicated love stories.

Disclaimer: I received The Last Best Kiss through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. These are my own words/thoughts and have not been affected by the author or any third party.
( )
  Rosario_1105 | Jun 13, 2014 |
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In this modern take on Jane Austen's "Persuasion," Anna Eliot tries to win back Finn Westbrook, the boy whose heart she broke three years ago.

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