This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend. Read the full disclosure here.
Book: “The Last Laugh” by Mindy McGinnis
Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, March 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley
Book Description: In the dark and stunning sequel to The Initial Insult, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis concludes this suspenseful YA duology as long-held family secrets finally come to light . . . changing Amontillado forevermore.
Tress Montor murdered Felicity Turnado—but she might not have to live with the guilt for long. With an infected arm held together by duct tape, the panther who clawed her open on the loose, and the whole town on the hunt for the lost homecoming queen, the odds are stacked against Tress. As her mind slides deeper into delirium, Tress is haunted by the growing sound of Felicity’s heartbeat pulsing from the “best friend” charm around her fevered neck.
Ribbit Usher has been a punchline his whole life—from his nickname to his latest turn as the unwitting star of a humiliating viral video. In the past he’s willingly played the fool, but now it’s time to fulfill his destiny. That means saving the girl, so that Felicity can take her place at his side and Ribbit can exact revenge on all who have done him wrong—which includes his cousin, Tress. Ribbit is held by a pact he made with his mother long ago, a pact that must be delivered upon in four days.
With time ticking down and an enemy she considers a friend lurking in the shadows, Tress’s grip on reality is failing. Can she keep both mind and body together long enough to finally find out what happened to her parents?
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I’ve been awaiting “The Last Laugh” by Mindy McGinnis since the moment I finished “The Initial Insult”. If you recall, that novel took Edgar Allan Poe tales and turned them into a modern small town setting involving grudge and secret holding teenagers, and did it in a way that worked fairly well. It also ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, one that had my head spinning about where it could go next. I had some theories, and while I was on the money in some ways, in other ways “The Last Laugh” surprised me.
Somehow “The Last Laugh” was even darker than “The Initial Insult”, which is saying something given that the last book ended with a teenage girl being bricked up in a coal shaft and left to die (though in Tress’s defense, she had had a change of heart, but thought that Felicity had died before she could reverse her plan and just left her there… even though Felicity wasn’t actually dead yet. BLEAK!). We are now following Tress again as she deals with her guilt for Felicity’s demise, and we now have two new perspectives to engage with since Felicity is out of the picture and the Black Panther is free. The first is Ribbit, Tress’s cousin who was humiliated via an online video where his classmates got him drunk and filmed it. The second is Rue, the gentle orangutan at Tress’s grandpa’s animal sideshow, who adores Tress. Tress’s story goes the way you think it would: she’s severely injured due to the panther mauling her arm, and is feeling immense guilt. But Ribbit’s perspective was interesting. I knew that he had a part to play given his “Hop-Frog” analog, but getting into his mind shows sides to him that we couldn’t see before that reflect darker things going on not just in his life, but also the entire Usher/Allan/Montor Family Tree. I greatly enjoyed seeing how all of this would come together in terms of its own unique story, but also through the Edgar Allan Poe works that gave it direct inspirations. And the things that McGinnis reveals this time around were deeply, deeply unsettling, and presented in ways that made this book creepy as hell. And Rue’s perspectives were a bit more of a mixed bag, in that I got why we had the Panther in the first book, as the Panther plays a key role in that book in terms of the plot. In this, Rue’s role felt a little more shoehorned in, in that there needed to be symmetry with the poetry animal perspective, but ultimately wasn’t really needed. The thing that does happen (I’m being vague purposefully) didn’t really feel like it needed to happen. But I liked her affection for Tress.
This time around I didn’t feel as if we were as deluged with Poe references, and that was to the benefit of the story. I think that this is probably because so much was set up for this book in “The Initial Insult” that the references were already well established and could flourish a bit more. This time around the biggest influences were that of “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and, as started in the previous book, “Hop-Frog”. But like with the last book, and I think even a little more son, McGinnis subverts the influences and themes and makes them fit a modern setting. A heart buried beneath a floor is now a friendship necklace. A cruel royal court is now less about monarchy and more about Homecoming. And there are far more metaphors at work rather than literal outcomes. It flowed better this time around, and that made for the follow through to be incredibly satisfying as a conclusion to a tale that was set up in the previous volume.
And the gore. OH THE GORE. While I felt that “The Initial Insult” was more akin to the psychological thrills of Poe’s works, “The Last Laugh” falls way more into the horror side of things. And it’s not just because of the gore (but there is a good amount of it). It’s also because of the creeping feeling that something really bad is going to happen before it’s all over. It isn’t just a suspense that builds, it’s true dread.
I was very pleased with “The Last Laugh” and how it wrapped up this love letter to Edgar Allan Poe. McGinnis doesn’t mess around when it comes to dark thrillers, be they for Young Adults or people my age.
Rating 8: A satisfying and unsettling conclusion to a Poe-rich thriller, “The Last Laugh” takes on more Poe themes and will unnerve you.
“The Last Laugh” is included on the Goodreads list “Books Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe”.