Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Source: Library

Summary: 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 Etienne St. Clair: 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 read this book simply because it had been getting a bunch of buzz from a whole lot of young adult readers.
Confession Time: When I first heard of this book right before it came out, I didn't really feel the need to read it. It was the title. To me, it sounded like a run of the mill, contemporary young adult romance novel with a main focus on the protagonist's romantic venture. In France. Not exactly grabbing my attention. I had less time to read in college, so when I did I was more interested in intense urban fantasy or dystopian novel series. This one kind of sounded like those Students Across the Seven Seas novels that each took their protagonist to a different country to fall into some forgettable wacky hijinx and in love with some forgettable guy.
I'd like to point out how absolutely wrong I was about this book and Mrs. Perkins's intentions during that period of my life.
As you can see, I don't read contemporary YA all the time. For a contemporary YA book to stand out for me, it has to be absolutely fantastic. And hot damn, this one was. Anna and the French Kissfollows the less-than-thrilled-to-be-moving-to-Paris Anna Oliphant, a girl whose life seems to finally be falling into place when she is told her father is shipping her off to boarding school just because he wants her to experience things. Mind you, when I heard this I was like "TAKE THE EXPERIENCE, LIVE YO' LIFE!" but I'm also at a slightly different place in life than a high school senior. And you probably couldn't have dragged me away from my hometown at that point in my life, so there you go. Anna's character was awesome. She was strong-minded, driven in her film-critic-career ambitions, and terrified of living in a country that didn't feature English as a first language. She wasn't a girl to sit around a let things happen, though; she took action, even if it resulted in some mistakes and fights with friends.
She moves to Paris and meets some new friends. Enter Etienne St. Clair, the regulation French-American-British accented hottie (because you know, there are clearly so many of them walking around) of the school. Anna is pretty much immediately smitten. I'm not going to say that I blame her, a cool accent is pretty much a deal-maker over here in the states. I finally became okay with watchingDancing with the Stars with the rest of my family this year due to the addition of Tristan, the new adorable Irish boy on the show. Seriously. I rooted for Nancy Grace to stay just so he could remain on the damn show. ANYWAY. I'm throwing this out there: Stephanie Perkins is a character genius. I don't say that lightly, characterization is one of the most important aspects of a story for me. If I don't care about the character, I probably won't care too much about the plot. St. Clair, known as Etienne only to Anna, is one of the best young adult love interests I've read about in quite some time. Why? Because he's not goddamn perfect.
Seriously, in a post-Twilight world, perfect male characters in young adult books became a thorn in my side. They're not believable, and most of the characters that are "perfect" have some glaring imperfections (see: Edward Cullen's controlling, fatherly nature towards Bella). Etienne St. Clair isn't a total saint that breaks up with his steady girlfriend and merely waits until Anna is ready for a relationship. Nope. He's a realistic teenage boy, which sometimes means he takes the cowardly way out and does have the ability to hurt someone with his actions, just as Anna has the ability to hurt him. And that, my friends, is what makes him fantastic. Also, his accent. That's not to be forgotten.
This is a tiny random thing, but I thought including the character of Matt was a great idea. He demonstrated that Anna wasn't perfect (they dated but he cared more about her than she did about him) and that not every ex-boyfriend is an evil, bitter being. His friendly concern for Anna over Toph was a nice change from the extreme douche-y ex-boyfriends that tend to turn up in a lot of young adult novels. Perkins demonstrated that it's okay for relationships to end, that they don't always need to result in bitterness and rage.
One of the most important things to note about Anna and the French Kiss is that the plot wasn't completely and utterly devoted to Anna and St. Clair's impending romance. The characters were very well-rounded. Anna had to deal with being wrenched from her life in America and the fact that life didn't stop there once she was gone. This meant dealign with disappointment and hurt caused by her best friend, Bridgette, and her former love interest Toph. Etienne's family problems were a major part of his life. Through dealing with these things, the characters demonstrated great personal growth and showed that they were ready to be with one another.
Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss is quite possibly my favorite contemporary young adult novel of this year. Go out and read it--its witty dialogue, vibrant characters, and overseas setting will blow you away. I can't wait to read more from her! (Luckily I can, Lola and the Boy Next Door was released last month ;) )

Favorite Line: "Girl Scouts didn't teach me what to do with emotionally unstable drunk boys."

Rating: 5 - this one's going on the shelf of favorites. UTTERLY BRILLIANT.

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