I don't think Mr. Darcy wrote love notes

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

Publisher: HarperTeen (August 2, 2011)

Format: Kindle Edition

So I have two confessions to make about this book. 1) This is the first time I’m not writing a review directly after reading the book. I read it this weekend while on vacation – but I swear I was sober for the vast majority of my time spent reading. 2) This was the second time I’d read the book but I’m ashamed to say that on my first read it took a pathetically long amount of time to figure out that this was a take-off on Pride and Prejudice. (Oh, subsequent confession: I’ve never read P&P so all my assumptions about the plot are taken from pop culture – the Keira Knightly version, “Bride and Prejudice”, the Bridget Jones books, and the shirtless scene from the BBC miniseries that seemed important after reading Bridget Jones. So anything I get wrong in relation to the book is obviously the fault of Hollywood and not me.)

Plot: Elise has just moved from Amherst, MA to Beverly Hills with her family (including her 3 sisters – blatant hint #1 I missed) because her mom has been hired as the principal of the most prestigious prep school in LA. Somehow within the first hours of school her older sister Jules has already caught the eye of one of the most popular guys in school – Chase Baldwin. Along with Chase comes his evil sister Chelsea (were the siblings in P&P given such similar names? Cause this bugs me) and hottie hot hot Derek Edwards, son of Hollywood’s top power couple. Too bad Derek is such a jerk all the time – he barely speaks and when he does the vast majority of what he says is either condescending or offensively brusque. Granted there are the moments when it’s just Derek and Elise and they seem to connect but something always seems to happen which makes him revert back into JerkDerek – especially when classmate Webster Grant is around. And then it gets way more into the P&P similarities (which is when I finally picked up on it) – the mom is a total flake, Chase breaks up with Jules for no apparent reason, Derek is mean to Webster with no explanation other than Webster’s lame excuses of an old friendship which ended poorly. Will Chase and Jules get back together? Will Derek finally stop being a jerk and get together with Elise? What happened between Derek and Webster? I think we all know the answers to every single one of these questions without even reading the book.

Review: I can’t say that I disliked the book because I didn’t but I really wish that I hadn’t figured out that it was a P&P retelling because then I might have been more engrossed in the story. To continue with the P&P connection for a minute I felt like there were a lot of instances where Ms. LaZebnik’s characterizations made no sense – it’s like she was writing scenes and then would have to remind herself that she was straying too far from the original. For instance Elise’s mom bugged the heck out of me – we’re supposed to believe this is a woman who is such an excellent administrator that the best prep school in LA paid to move her and her entire family across the country and yet she comes across as the most vapid parental figure in the history of time. And Webster Grant really does seem awesome, no smarminess at all until about halfway through the book when I can only assume the author was like “Crap! He’s too nice! I need to make him more evilllllll!”

But all (and I mean ALL) the secondary/tertiary/fourthiary plotlines aside I really liked the Elise/Derek scenes. When you think about someone who has had Derek’s parental background it’s understandable that he’s completely standoffish. And all the stuff at the end – smoking hot. I honestly wish that the author had just written an Elise/Derek story without all the other characters and P&P crap because the few scenes they had were awesome.

In the end I’m giving this a 7.5/10.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: I really liked Elise. She has a great head on her shoulders, is loyal to her sister Jules, realizes that her younger sister is a complete idiot but is still there in her time of need, is seriously funny, and loves crossword puzzles. However is she any different from the character of Elizabeth Bennett (crossword puzzles aside since I don’t think they existed in Victorian England)? I don’t think so. So I’m giving this a 7 of 10 just for lack of originality.

How much did I like the love interest: 9 of 10. I almost hate to admit it but I totally squee’d a few times over Derek toward the end. I think of him as a teenage Jolie-Pitt child – his entire life his parents have been at the top of the Hollywood pyramid and therefore he’s been exposed to awesome things like travelling the world but also to negative experiences like never seeing his parents and constant paparazzi attacks. He knows that anyone in his life might be persuaded to sell details to the press for cash and therefore is reticent when meeting new people. But underneath it all he’s just a normal teenage guy who is loyal to his friend(s), loves his parents enough that he’ll try a raw food diet with his mom (what teenager would do this?), is so protective of his sister, and has no idea how to deal with a girl he likes. I’m giving him some extra points for putting himself out there, his awesome relationship with his nanny, his serious attractiveness (we all know I’m shallow), and also because I felt like he strayed a bit more from Mr. Darcy than I expected.

How believable is the plot: I don’t even think I can judge this one properly. Why would the mom have been moved from MA to Beverly Hills when she seems completely ineffective? Why does Chase latch on to Jules so fast? (Side note: I have always really disliked these characters. Even in a modern day retelling of the story there is no better word to describe them than “milquetoast”.) What sort of parents won’t let their high school age daughters leave the house without a jacket but lets a younger daughter leave looking like a floozy? And would a Hollywood party – even one thrown by a teenager – really have no alcohol? I’m giving this a 6 but I’m not really sure why. Again, then ending stuff between Elise and Derek is really skewing the whole system for me.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: I’ve already said that I usually don’t notice this stuff so when I do it must be glaring…and I noticed about a dozen errors. Typos, formatting issues, and my personal pet peeve – incorrect usage of “your” vs. “you’re”. I really don’t ask for much people! Grrr. 5.

How much did I want to keep reading: Eh, I went back and forth on this one. I really liked it in the beginning, then figured out what was going on and grew apathetic, but then the infrequent but awesome interactions between Derek and Elise drew me back in. I’m going to give it a 7 since sometimes I didn’t mind putting it away but then there were times when I was fully engrossed.

Glasses of wine I drank while reading: About 3. Now part of my reading was on a plane with a screaming child right behind me for 2.5 hours but that only accounted for 1 drink (airplane alcohol is not cheap and the mommies around me were giving me seriously jealous stares – it was scary). The rest were simply because of the unoriginality of the plot and my subsequent boredom. Not that bad but not great.

Final Score: I think Judith is using math to come up with these but I try to avoid math at all times and so I’m just taking what I think my average would be. And so for this I’m saying 7.5. And honestly if the last few chapters hadn’t been as awesome as they were then the score would’ve been much lower. This really is a book I’m glad I stuck with since it showed the most originality – and had the best scenes – at the end. Can I reiterate my statement that I wish the author had just written an original Derek/Elise story and forgotten all the P&P crap? I think I would’ve enjoyed that MUCH more.

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2 thoughts on “Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

  1. Wait! Hold up one minute: how have you never read Pride and Prejudice? I haven’t forced it on you yet??? Don’t worry, the annotated version will make its way into your hot little hands before this month is over. I think it’s required material for any reviewer on I Love YA Fiction. Maybe you’re about to lose your reviewer’s license…Anyway, I remember this book! I read it over the Christmas holiday and think that I found it just okay. Webster was just plain weird as time went on and how did Elise not notice it? And Derek totally seemed like the love child of Brangelina. I’m surprised he didn’t have adopted siblings for his super famous family to trot out at the holidays. I’m not the biggest fan of famous boy/normal girl love stories but this one was tolerable, just not memorable. Luckily you’re here to remember little things like names and situations for me otherwise the only thing I would remember is Webster trying to tape himself getting it on with a high freshman friend of Elise’s sister while he was supposed to be in love with her. For real, that’s all I’ve got that’s concrete.

  2. Pingback: Giddyup! It’s Monday Roundup! | I Love YA Fiction

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