Meredith's Reviews > Epic Fail

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
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's review
Aug 24, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 2011, austen-esque, contemporary-fiction, ya
Read from October 27 to 30, 2011

Originally published by The Librarian Next Door:

It’s never easy being the new girl at school; it’s even worse when you’re mother is the new principal and you obviously stand out. When Elise Benton and her family move from quiet Amherst, MA to glitzy Los Angeles, Elise quickly realizes she is out of her depth. For her new classmates at Coral Tree Prep school, it’s all about who your parents are and how much money they make – which is why Derek Edwards, the son of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars – is practically royalty. Elise has no intention of becoming one of Derek’s adoring fans, but when her sister Julianna starts dating Derek’s best friend Chase, she’s thrown into situations where she has to interact with Derek. It isn’t long before Elise begins to suspect that maybe there’s more to Derek than his parents’ bank accounts, but before they can get their happy ending, they must first contend with embarrassing family members, a series of misunderstandings, the social outcast with a mysterious connection to Derek’s family and a few prideful prejudices.

In Epic Fail, author Claire LaZebnik creates a modern update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, moving the action from England’s countryside to present-day Los Angeles. It is a lighthearted, cute and enjoyable novel that captures the overall feeling of the classic romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Though Epic Fail lacks Austen’s scathing social satire and sharp, accurate insights into social situations, it’s still a lot of fun to read, with Elise and Derek filling the Lizzie and Darcy roles quite well. Some of Austen’s more memorable characters are missing – poor Collins! – while others seem like they’re channeling their Regency counterparts (in particular, Webster as the Wickham character, Layla as the Lydia character and Elise’s parents as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett are especially spot-on). LaZebnik does follow the Pride and Prejudice story fairly faithfully, but still adds her own touches and doesn’t let the plot drag on.

By placing Epic Fail in modern-day Los Angeles, LaZebnik makes a classic story her own and taps into our society’s current culture of celebrity obsession and worship. Whenever any author updates Pride and Prejudice, there’s always the issue of addressing the class differences between the Lizzie character and the Darcy character. In Austen’s time, one’s status in society was a binding standing that not only dictated how people acted and behaved, but was also difficult to overcome, especially for woman (barring an advantageous marriage, of course). But, while social classes still exist in the contemporary world, they aren’t as restrictive and so it’s sometimes problematic when updating the story.

By making Derek the son of highly sought-after actors and Hollywood celebrities, LaZebnik creates the gulf between Elise and Derek and gives their misunderstandings context. In her determination to prove that she won’t fall all over Derek simply because of his parents, Elise misses out on the opportunity to really get to know him at first. It also allows for situations in which Elise’s mother might foolishly fawn over a student because of his famous parents or Elise’s father might scornfully scoff at Hollywood-bred young man based on his own prejudices.

Most importantly, it gives Derek a legitimate reason to be wary of people. He never knows if they like him or his parents, and so his aloofness and reserve feel justified and understandable. Likewise, Elise’s initial dislike of him is also justified because she assumes he’s arrogant and full of himself precisely because his parents are famous actors. Both Derek and Elise share many things in common with Austen’s Darcy and Lizzie, which makes Epic Fail all the more enjoyable. I especially liked Elise’s quick wit and sarcasm – she is as spirited and intelligent as Lizzie Bennett was and equally comfortable when it comes to sparring verbally.

Jane Austen left a daunting legacy that’s not easy to match or surpass, but Claire LaZebnik does an admirable job of updating the classic Pride and Prejudice story for a new generation with her novel, Epic Fail. It may not be especially deep or thought-provoking, but it’s fun for what it is: a young adult version of a beloved classic. Any fan of Austen’s original Lizzie and Darcy will enjoy reading Elise and Derek’s story.

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10/28/2011 page 58
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