January 24, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
written exclusively for SYTYCW Blog by Jeannie N. (@gojeannie on Twitter)

Eh-t-yen says my name like this: Ah-na.
My heart thump thump thumps in my chest.”

And the sound you hear is the collective sigh and thump thump in our chests as well. *sigh* I want to first put a disclaimer out there before anyone attempts to read this review:

I loved this book. Not just “read-it-again-til-the-covers-fall-off-of-it” love or even “buy-everyone-a-copy-for-Christmas” love. No, no, no. This is “Hold-my-hand-on-the-first-date-kiss-me-in-the-moonlight-marry-me-at-dawn-make-sweet-sweet-love-to-me-until-I-crumple-into-a-heap-of-exhaustion-and-then-we’ll-proceed-to-have-a-gaggle-of-human/book-hybrid-babies-together” love. So with that so eloquently said, I am warning you all that what follows is extreme amounts of gushing over the perfection that is Anna and the French Kiss. *swoon*

There is nothing supernatural or futuristic about this story. No vampires or werewolves or faeries or even a fallen angel in sight. This is a simple story of a girl who meets a boy and all the highs and lows that come with figuring out how to get the boy. Couple that with the international intrigue set in an American boarding school in the world’s most romantic city, Paris, and you’ve got yourself the cutest story ever written. The story is told from the point of view of Anna who is shipped off to France for her final year in Highschool by her father, who is, in my estimation, loosely based on bestselling author Nicolas Sparks. 

"I mean, really. Who sends their kid to boarding school? It’s so Hogwarts."

There, she makes new friends who go a long way in helping overcome her feelings of loneliness and isolation as a new student. There’s Meredith, the high-strung over-achiever, Rashmi, the introvert and her boyfriend, Josh who has yet to meet his own potential and then there’s Etienne. It is the friendship Anna strikes with the “taken” Etienne (who’s girlfriend is a year older and attends university in the city) that transforms Anna from a withdrawn American visitor to someone who fully appreciates why Paris is known as the most romantic city in the world.

Point Zero in front of Notre Dame
This book first made the rounds on my Twitter stream the week it was released. The 140 characters or less recommendations invariably started with the words (I kid you, not) “awwwww!” or “swoooon!” or “cuuuute!” I’m sure there’s some study on the use of multiple repetition of letters coupled with exclamation marks to indicate the level of of how lovestruck the reader is with this book. So of course I was more than a little curious. I’ve never been to Paris and I’ve never really had a desire to visit. I have, however, had friends go there and come back with stories of rude Parisians, insanely strong coffee and dog poop all over the streets (stories of poop outnumbered rude Parisians 2 to 1, though). Which, understandably, lessened my desire to go there even further. After reading this book I am a changed woman. I am now able to picture myself strolling along the streets of Paris, ducking into a small theater showing a movie with no subtitles, taking a stroll along the Seine and surviving on just wine and bread for days! That is the power that is Anna and the French Kiss, it makes you believe in and have hope for young love in all capacities. Of course romantic love is the focal point of this story but parental love, friendship love and loyalty and letting go of love are also explored.
French cinemas play a big part in this book

But I’m sure you just want to know why everyone thinks this book is so super awww! and swooon!, right? You know when you’ve read a ton of young adult novels where the love story is usually the B-plot of the book? You really just want to see some lip-locking action but you get a couple of crazy are they or aren’t they in-love kids doing all kinds of things EXCEPT expressing their love (Oh you know, like running through mazes, waving magic wands and fighting off vampires)? Well, this book delivers. I appreciate so much Stephanie Perkins’ approach to storytelling. Anna is funny and awkward to a fault but she feels real because WE are a little (or a lot) like Anna. Every one of us can probably admit to feeling unsure about life and not knowing our place in this world. 

"Someday I’ll be awarded a statue shaped like a pair of lips, and it’ll be engraved with the words WORLD’S WORST KISSER."

Especially if we come from broken families or have been away from home for an extended period of time. Anna seeks to find anchor in her friends and especially in Etienne and her journey is meticulously told in a carefree, realistic way. Anna is not the perfect bombshell that seems unreachable in some novels, but she is someone we can identify with, someone down to earth and real. In my opinion, the best moments in this book are the ones when Anna and Etienne are separated but continue developing their friendship through emails and texts. I loved their communication back and forth, their vulnerability came through so clearly in those emails and you really got a sense that they were becoming great friends, building a foundation for the possibility of more later. Although Anna and Etienne are obviously the main characters in this story, the supporting players are developed enough that you care about them as well, especially Meredith who harbors a long-time unrequited crush on Etienne (who could blame her, really?).

And just so you know, here’s what my review would have looked like if I had not done the 3 week waiting period between finishing the book and writing this: OMG OMG, SQUUEEEEEE!!! CUTEST BOOK EVAAAAARRRR!!! I’m sure you’re glad I waited.

"And in between kisses, I tell him I love him. Again and again and again."

Just like Sara Gruen famously did before her with Water for Elephants, Stephanie Perkins wrote Anna and the French Kiss during National Novel Writing Month. And that alone puts her on top with me personally, because if she can get just one young person to give it a go and write something (during NaNoWriMo or whenever) then she would have done the greatest service any writer could do. Inspire. Also, she wears bright blue extensions in her brown hair -- I wanna be her BFF.

Anna and the French Kiss will soon be joined by two more companions novels written by Stephanie, Lola and the Boy Next Door (September 29, 2011) and Isla and the Happily Ever After (2012).


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