GENRE: YOUNG ADULT/ROMANCE
PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 1, 2011
RATING: 9 OUT OF 10 – EXCELLENT
When Elise Benton’s mother gets a job offer from a prestigious private school in Los Angeles, the entire family gets uprooted. Elise and her sisters couldn’t be more out of place at Coral Tree Prep where they’re surrounded by the children of famous celebrities, and the green minivan that their mother makes them drive doesn’t make fitting in much easier. Juliana is fortunate enough to snag the attention of the attractive, yet surprisingly down-to-earth, Chase. Elise finds herself being dragged along to social events in order to make Chase’s buddy, Derek Edwards, feel like less of a third wheel, but Elise and Derek don’t exactly hit it off. Derek is the son of one of Hollywood’s most famous acting couples, and he’s constantly paranoid that people are only interested in him because of his fame. Elise couldn’t care less, but his attitude puts her off, particularly when he kicks up a fuss over her friendship with Webster Grant. She just wants Derek to leave her alone so that she can choose her own friends at Coral Tree, but this guy just won’t let up. To make matters worse, her mother, the principal, keeps disciplining Chase’s annoying younger sister, and Elise’s own sister, Layla, is meddling in affairs that a fourteen year old should know nothing about. Is Elise’s time at Coral Prep going to be an epic fail?
Here’s a rather amusing anecdote: Claire LaZebnik was the first “grown up” author that I read as a teenager. I read Same As It Never Was (or Olivia’s Sister, as it’s titled in the UK) when I was thirteen and had exhausted my library’s supply of Sweet Valley University and Point Horror novels. I recall really enjoying her novel, but my library sadly never got any more of her books. I’ve now finally made it out of my teen years (I turned twenty in September) and apparently, Claire has started to write Young Adult fiction! It seemed appropriate that I do a reversal of my initial experience with Claire’s work and take a dip into her foray into teenage fiction. Plus, this book was incredibly cheap on Kindle and it was advertised as being a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – how could a penny-pinching English Literature student resist a deal like that?
As shocking as it may sound coming from an English major and a romance reader, I actually only read Pride and Prejudice for the first time last year. The story wasn’t entirely fresh in my mind, however, so I had to occasionally keep looking up the character names on Wikipedia, as I was curious to see who Webster Grant and Chelsea were modelled after. Epic Fail didn’t exactly follow Austen’s original to the letter, and missed out the character of Mr Collins almost altogether, but I don’t think it could have made a compelling high school novel while accurately mimicking Pride and Prejudice. I’m not a massive Austen fan, but I have enjoyed most of her novels, and I would consider Epic Fail to be an original and successful adaptation. But I’d also say that one of Epic Fail’s best characteristics is that it can be read without any prior knowledge of Austen. It isn’t riddled with links to Pride and Prejudice that would alienate a potential reader, so jump right in if that’s what’s been holding you back.
As I came close to finishing this novel, I was very tempted to give it full marks. The only thing that holds me back marks is that Layla’s storyline felt very unfinished, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen to her, Weston and Campbell. It stopped me from completely enjoying the incredibly sweet concluding scene with Elise and Derek. I'm holding out for the hope that this means there will be a sequel about Layla. I’m particularly interested to see whether Claire follows up some of the secondary characters in this novel, especially Derek’s sister Georgia, who was introduced towards the end of the book. Even if Elise and Derek weren’t to feature in a later novel, I’d still be interested in reading it as I think some of the tertiary characters had real potential.
However, I do have to complain about the title. It has no relation to the story whatsoever, other than that Elise herself makes two or three mentions to something being an “epic fail”. I get the feeling that the publisher wanted to use what they thought was typical teen lingo in order to get the attention of their target market. But from what I’ve see of reviews, many teen readers have also bemoaned the fact that this phrase has very little to do with the story.
Epic Fail was an incredibly cute, fun, touching read. I was cautious about reading a teenage romance as I never had much of a love life as a teen. I devoured many Meg Cabot novels and books about the Sweet Valley Twins, which set me up for a bit of a disappointment when I got older, when I realised that it was very unlikely I’d meet a guy in high school who remotely resembled any of my fictional heroes. But I felt that the relationships in Epic Fail, both those between Derek and Elise as well as Chase and Juliana, were very well written. The characters acted their age, unlike some teen protagonists who either seem younger or older than they’re meant to be, and it was encouraging to see the mistakes that occur through the inevitable teenage miscommunications. Despite all the wonders of texting, emailing and vid-chatting (which even I’d never heard of), these characters still managed many a misunderstanding, which echoed my own teen years all too well. I’d like to think that Epic Fail accurately reflected the behaviour of teenagers, which should be appreciated by teens and adults alike. I really hope that there’s a sequel in the works, or maybe even another modern Austen adaptation.
Disclaimer: There are a few instances of bad language. While there are brief instances of smoking and use of alcohol and drugs, all of the principal characters are disapproving of such behaviour. There are some vague hints at how far one character's relationship is going physically, but nothing descriptive and what is considered “far” is up to the reader’s interpretation. A secondary character is revealed to have been taking photographs of girls in various states of undress, but this topic is dealt with very sensitively.