Saturday, December 27, 2014
Review: Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler
Title: Last Will and Testament (Radleigh University, #1)
Author: Dahlia Adler
Rating: 3 Stars
Last Will and Testament is one of the few novels I've managed to read in one sitting over the past few months. Considering that little has kept me away from sleep since I began college, this speaks volumes. While Adler's latest is compulsively readable, with a flawed heroine we cannot help but root for and a swoon-worthy romance to boot, my feminist brain couldn't help but nit-pick at the villain of this storyline--which only contributed to my rising dislike of the plot during its last quarter. Nevertheless, I cannot help but recommend Last Will and Testament in a sea of increasingly predictable and bland New Adult novels. It isn't the best forbidden romance novel I've read, but it's certainly not the worst either.
Lizzie, the heroine of our novel, is knowingly helping the president of an on-campus fraternity cheat with his girlfriend by being the "other" woman, when the police knock of their bedroom door to inform her that both her parents have been killed in a car accident. This makes 18-year-old Lizzie the guardian of her two younger brothers, 13-year-old Tyler and 7-year-old Max, as well as forcing her to increase her GPA if she wants to remain on a scholarship to stay in college. Stunned, alone, and completely unprepared for the responsibility she must now undertake, the last place Lizzie expects to find help is from her young (and very sexy) TA, Connor. Connor, whose history class Lizzie is currently getting by with a C, finds Lizzie a new apartment to house her brothers and agrees to tutor her as well, all so that Lizzie can achieve the minimum GPA required to maintain her scholarship. While Lizzie is puzzled--and grateful--for Connor's willingness to help, she doesn't expect to fall in love with him. After all, this is the TA whose class she has ignored, skipped, and detested. But, as both Connor and Lizzie will realize, there is no convenient time for love.
First and foremost, I have to applaud Adler for, from the beginning of her novel itself, creating a heroine who isn't instantly likable. Lizzie is knowingly sleeping with a guy in a relationship and she spends her weekends getting drunk in frat houses instead of studying to improve her GPA. Yet, despite this, it is Lizzie who is our heroine and I admire that Adler crafts her in such a way that she manages to be grief-stricken and sarcastic, with "loose morals" by New Adult terms, and is still an incredible heroine with strength and courage in the face of tragedy. Moreover, another kudos I must assign Adler is her realistic portrayal of college; college is hard. Lizzie may have been the valedictorian of her high school but she's struggling to get by in college and as soon as she owns up to her responsibilities and stops partying, spending all her time looking after her brothers and studying, her grades improve. The New Adult lifestyle of party-going heroines who have time to both maintain their grades, their popularity, and their love stories? It's a myth that is very difficult to perpetuate in reality and I like that Adler approaches this from a realistic stance.
Last Will and Testament stands out, however, because of its forbidden romance. Connor and Lizzie's love story plays out slowly, cautiously, with neither of them acknowledging the feelings they have for one another until they are so ingrained into each other's lives. Lizzie starts out detesting Connor and her change of heart as she gets to know him as a person--as more than her TA--is developed perfectly. I was on the edge of my seat, dying to see how Lizzie would handle her younger siblings alongside Connor. Moreover, I was desperate to see if Connor would rise to the challenge of being with a student, particularly one with the baggage Lizzie brings with her. Adler handles this romance adeptly, making it both sexy and believable without sacrificing any of the side characters she adds. Lizzie's brothers have their own personalities, each as developed as that of Lizzie and Connor, so the complications they add to the storyline were a unique twist. Connor, too, is not without his own baggage and though the main plot line revolves around Lizzie and her issues since her parent's death, I appreciated the glimpses into Connor's past.
Where my issues with Last Will and Testament arose came in the last quarter of the novel. Lizzie, who--if you'll re-call, was sleeping with the president of a fraternity house even though he already had a girlfriend--winds up becoming Public Enemy #1 of said girlfriend. And, naturally, this girlfriend is the villain of our plot and proceeds to go to great lengths to make trouble for Connor and Lizzie in their little paradise. Last Will and Testament doesn't need a villain, frankly. The circumstances Lizzie is placed in cause enough hurdles in her life, not to mention her younger brothers, thus the emergence of such a dramatic storyline towards the end of the novel was disappointing, to say the least. What's more, the villainous girlfriend in question chooses to take down Lizzie when it was her own boyfriend who was truly at fault for cheating on her in the first place. I continue to be confused by why media--books, movies, commercials, shows, etc.--perpetuates the idea that a scorned woman will exact revenge on another woman. I attend an all-woman's college and I can assure you that, despite all the confused looks I received after I made my decision--there has been less drama and more solidarity and sisterhood on my campus than those of my friend's who all opted for the usual co-ed route. Girls are not naturally vindictive and vicious and the fact that the villain of this novel goes to extreme lengths to "get back" at Lizzie is not only unrealistic, but it perpetuates a terrible reputation upon women. It is especially saddening within the context that Adler truly created an exceptional heroine in Lizzie, one who had not just one but two close girlfriends with reliable friendships. Yet, the disintegration of the plot within these last few chapters deducted a couple of stars from my otherwise favorable rating of Adler's latest.
Like I said previously, I would not hesitate to recommend Last Will and Testament. It is a New Adult novel that manages to be un-put-dow-able and the romance at the crux of this story is truly sweet and swoony. If you manage to overlook the dramatic plot developments of the end, this is an ideal New Adult read. Adler may not be a favorite author of mine, but she certainly possesses the potential.