Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Young adult, romance, boarding school
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Summary: Against her wishes, Anna Oliphant is sent to boarding school in Paris for her final year of high school. She was supposed to be spending it in Atlanta with her best friend, family, and romantic interest Toph. Now she’s stuck in the City of Lights with no knowledge of French culture and no friends. But this is quickly remedied with the help of her new classmates Meredith, Josh, Rashmi, and the extremely attractive St. Clair.
Suddenly, Paris doesn’t seem so bad. She is completely smitten with St. Clair, and Anna thinks he may like her too. The only problem? His serious relationship with the very cool and gorgeous Ellie. On top of that, Meredith is obviously in love with him. Anna must learn to navigate both the streets and subways of Paris and the complex social situations that come with growing up, no matter what language you speak.
Usually, I am not a straight-up romance kind of girl. I like my romance woven into a bigger plot, with a healthy dose of magic and/or dystopia thrown in. Add some broken hearts, a death or two, and irrevocable separation, I’m happy! But after hearing great things from several people (and John Green, too) I decided to take out this book from my library. Cliché alert: Once I picked it up, I could not put this book down.
The success of this novel lies in the character Perkins created. Anna is simply a joy to read. She is smart, with a tendency to self-deprecate. This was evident in the very first chapter. Anna lists all the things she knows about France – which is next to nothing. And most of us can probably name even less than she can. Then we’re informed she will be stuck in this completely abstract idea of another country for an entire year. The laughter is mixed with panic. She is clearly more of an introvert, which is brought out when her parents abandon her in this foreign country. Her new friends have to coax her out into her new city, and we get all the varied emotions involved. We find out she is a very loyal friend, if not the best communicator. And girl can hold a grudge like no one’s business, while still having the capacity to look inward. In short, Anna almost jumps off the page, she has so much depth. Very few YA characters have the same believability.
The details of the book also make it a compelling read. Anna’s father is a Nicholas Sparks-esque author, who sold out for fame and fortune. His fake tan and awful cable knit sweaters are cringe-worthy. The scene where Anna sees Toph and Bridgette’s band perform is hilarious. Anna expects a glamorous and gritty club, and gets a bowling alley. Then there is the love interest himself – St. Clair. As an American born English/French boy with a cute butt and a crooked smile, he’s no Edward Cullen (thank sweet baby Potter!). He also has a lot of depth, which makes the relationship between he and Anna feel necessary and alive. Finally – Paris. Le swoon! The cinemas and the shops, the cathedrals and river Seine. This book had me wanting to break out my passport and go straight to the airport.
One thing I take issue with – Ms. Perkins named a character Toph. He is supposed to be a goofy psued0-punk that Anna is crushing on. But whenever I was reading about Toph, I thought about this. Or this. Or this. Now I know not everyone will share my love of Avatar, but most people my age and younger have at least seen the show. So it’s a pop culture reference that perhaps she didn’t know, but I feel someone in the editing process should have. Very small complaint, but I couldn’t stop expecting blind jokes whenever Toph was mentioned.
Another small complaint (and this maybe my general aversion to romance) – events get a little messy towards the end of the book. I know the conflict in romance is usually people-driven, so I was expecting there to be some drama. But there is so much during the second half of the book that it started to feel unnatural. Maybe it’s because I’m an old curmudgeon, but I wanted pull a Vonnegut and pop myself into the narrative. I’d talk some quick sense into the kids, eat a crêpe, and then leave. But the drama is wrapped up well, and we get an ending that does justice to the characters.
– Anna is a wonderful narrator, with humor and vulnerability that makes her very relatable
– A fresh take on the coming-of-age novel
– Perfectly captures the feelings of love, with all the anxieties and joys, without devolving into sappiness
– I learned the word “callipygian.” Look it up!
– Events get very messy, so it feels a little forced towards the end
– A character named Toph who is not an earth bending badass
Besides a few minor complaints, Stephanie Perkins delivers an engrossing first novel. She writes about the territory of growing up – when we expect our friends to be perfect versions of themselves, but then realize they have inner-lives and conflicts just as we do. Understanding we can’t ask others to be perfect because we are so far from it. The acute awareness of knees almost touching yours in a darkened cinema. The absolute shitfests that can spiral out of control so fast. Learning to assert yourself in a world that seems daunting. Anna and the French Kiss covers it all, with a buoyant spirit that is undeniable.