Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.
As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?
I first heard of Anna and the French Kiss via Kiersten White’s blog. (Which you should read if you don’t already, because she’s hilarious and often makes my day.) Kiersten was very enthusiastic about Stephanie Perkins’ debut novel, and since I loved Paranormalcy I thought I’d give Anna a try.
Which turned out to be a very good idea. This book is the best combination of cute and funny that I’ve read all year—one of those books that are just genuinely fun to read. In fact, I’ve read it twice already and I still love it. Normally, the second time around I pick out flaws or skip parts; not so for this book. It made me feel just as happy as the first time around.
I took French for seven years during middle and high school and I’ve been to France a few times; once to St. Malo on a school trip and twice to Paris in living memory. I’ve always had an absolute blast, so it was especially fantastic for me that Anna is set in Paris, a setting that’s both quite unique to YA and full of exciting places to explore—perfect for a book has a bit of coming-of-age story thrown in.
I also loved that the romance is slow going, with a real emphasis on friendship. It felt a lot more real than a lot of YA relationships, especially because Etienne St. Clair is most definitely not an ‘I stalk you, which you find strangely attractive’ kind of romantic interest. Hallelujah! In fact, he’s the antithesis of the scary stalker boy. He’s sweet, charming, fun and just plain nice. (With good hair, to boot.) And I, the girl from the family where everyone but me is over six feet tall, did not care in the slighest that this guy was not taller than my mother. (Far from it, actually.) People who know me in real life will recognize this as a miracle, which tells you how much I loved the guy. You know that quote, that ‘Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about love?’ Well, ‘Disney’ can now be replaced with ‘Stephanie Perkins’.
That’s not to say that he’s perfect; the characters also felt very real to me, because they are perfectly flawed, both physically and emotionally. They don’t always make the right choices, they embarrass themselves, and they have awkward moments. This sense of realism is my favourite element in teen literature, and to get all analytical, it’s because I’m a teen, and I do all those things too, so I identify more with such characters. Teen life isn’t perfect, and the best YA books reflect that.
I also enjoyed Anna as a protagonist—she’s kind, pragmatic, but not a doormat by any means. If you weren’t in love with the same boy, I think she’d make a great best friend! I really loved that she wasn’t irrational about the people she didn’t like, which brings me to one of my favourite things about this book: it didn’t paint the rival (in this case, St. Clair’s girlfriend Ellie) as a total witch. She was just a normal teen behaving a bit badly; it was so much better and (I felt) actually stirred up more conflict for me than the traditional route of the evil girlfriend. Sometimes we strongly dislike people who haven’t actually done anything bad to us. That’s life, and as I think you’ve gathered so far, Ms. Perkins does life very well indeed.
The supporting cast is also great; no weak and flimsy characters here! I actually knew a lot about Anna’s friends by the end of the book without even spending most of my reading time with them. They had their own ways of speaking and their own little quirks. Friendships didn’t materialize instantly; they had to be worked at.
I don’t think I can do anything more than say that Anna and the French Kiss took me for an emotional ride—I laughed really hard in the middle of the night, I felt all warm and fuzzy to the extent that my body temperature actually rose, and most importantly, I read with a smile on my face. Anna is now the new book I’m an evangelist for, and I cannot wait for Lola and the Boy Next Door, due out in fall 2011. Thank you, Stephanie Perkins, for some of the best few hours I’ve had all year. Or, more appropriately, merci beaucoup!
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