Smarting from her parents’ divorce in eighth grade, Leila Bean thinks it must be fate when she meets cute Dev Rajan while shopping for schools supplies the summer before freshman year. A habitual viewer of reality dating competitions, she knows better than to waste the opportunity.
Four years later, Leila and Dev are easily their high school’s most unproblematic couple. Which is why Leila is devastated when Dev decides to break up with her just before graduation instead of taking their relationship long-distance during college. Aside from the confusion of being out of a committed relationship for essentially the first time, Leila is devastated that this will be her biggest memory from high school.
Leila is skeptical when her best friend suggests the distraction Leila needs is to take part in her school’s annual Last Chance Dance. As its name suggests, the dance will give Leila a chance to match with 3 unrequited crushes (if the interest is mutual) and one algorithm-chosen wild card.
No one is more surprised than Leila when she’s matched with all of her crushes–and her longtime nemesis. Going on dates with athletic Kai, activist Mason, and bookstagrammer Eva is fun but the biggest surprise for Leila is that class clown Tre’–orchestrator of her biggest humiliation in eighth grade (and possibly her entire life)–might be an actual contender for a date and maybe even more in Last Chance Dance (2023) by Lakita Wilson.
Leila and most of the characters in her Maryland neighborhood school are Black; characters fall across the LGBTQ+ spectrum including bisexual Eva and “masculine presenting lesbian” Bree. Dev is cued as Indian American and Hindu.
Opinions will vary but this adult reader was unable to willingly suspend enough disbelief to buy into a school sanctioning a very complicated dance like the Last Chance Dance and balked at Leila’s pride in acting like half of an old married couple with Dev at the novel’s start. While some readers might have a hard time getting in Leila’s head when it comes to her singular focus on relationships, the story does a lot to tease out her motivations and flesh out her character.
Wilson’s breezy narrative and the inventive premise ultimately make a winning combination in Last Chance Dance where Leila learns how to trust again while figuring out how to define herself outside of her relationship status.
Possible Pairings: Dramatically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*