The Story: Most teens would be stoked to spend their senior year in Paris, France. Not Anna. She’s been shipped off to a private school in Europe courtesy of her father who sent her there, well, simply because he could. Completely clueless about French culture and language, poor Anna anticipates a year of misery and homesickness. Fortunately, her next door dorm-neighbor, Meredith, is more than happy to show Anna the ropes and introduce Anna to her group of friends. Unfortunately, Anna seems to be combating feelings for one of those aforementioned friends, Etienne St. Clair. What’s worse, he seems to be rather friendly towards her as well, which definitely could complicate things with his longtime girlfriend. As friendships are strengthened and tested, they learn that just about anything can happen in the city of lights (and love).
The Low Down: Anna and the French Kiss isn’t just some fluffy romance for hormone-fueled teenagers. This is one of the most adorable teen romances I’ve read in ages, but it’s not all hearts and rainbows. This book is very issue-heavy, while still managing to maintain a lighter tone.
Anna is sent to Paris because her Nicholas Sparks-like father just secured yet another movie deal for one of his best selling tragic romance novels. He wants the glory of saying his daughter studies in France, so he feels it’s appropriate to uproot her life for that sole purpose. No one could blame the girl for having daddy issues. Enter Etienne, who also has some serious daddy issues himself. Anna’s father is selfish, but Etienne’s may as well be the devil. There’s definitely some parental conflict as these two try to cope together with their controlling fathers.
Another issue we run across that’s semi-related to the parent issue is how someone’s world can collapse when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. While the story is not primarily about a parent’s cancer battle, it’s a big enough part of the story to be a prime factor in developing some of the characters’ relationships.
There’s a lot of ups and downs among friendships, which is what makes this a terribly realistic teen novel. In the real world, teens don’t meet and see that starry-eyed twinkle and decide to be together forever. In the real world, let’s face it: it’s ugly. There are very real emotions and other relationships involved, and that’s exactly the types of dynamics that are explored in Anna. Anna and Etienne clearly have a friendly attraction, but Etienne has a serious girlfriend. Meredith, who has known Etienne for years, also has a crush on him, and Anna doesn’t want her to know she as feelings for him, too. Anna infuriates Etienne with all her hot/cold attitudes towards him, and he drives her crazy in return with all this “serious girlfriend” business. See? Complicated. But it’s probably as close to real life as you’re going to get. Despite the drama, the story is still funny. The romance is still adorable. The tone is still light and fun.
In short, I absolutely loved Anna and the French Kiss. I generally try to steer away from romance (because I’m clearly very bitter and cynical), but I liked all the relationships in this story and how they developed over the course of time. Check out the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and the last book in the Anna series (Isla and the Happily Ever After), which will be released in September 2013 and returns to Paris to follow up with two characters previously seen in Anna. Stephanie Perkins’ writing is a delight to read and I can’t wait to see more from her.
The Bottom Line: Anna and the French Kiss is a fun, lighthearted, and realistic romance that artfully portrays the ups and downs of young love, as well as tactfully dealing with family conflicts and tested friendships. Great, easy writing by Perkins makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers who enjoy romantic stories. Can’t wait to read the two companion novels.
OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10