Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
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? (courtesy of Goodreads)
Anna And The French Kiss is one of those rare books that has the entire package. Everything you want in a book. Great romance. Great sub-plots. Likeable male and female protagonists. Even more important, realistic male and female protagonists. Dysfunctional family. Fabulous setting. Likeable secondary characters who fit well into the plot. Even a boarding school.
Those are all the formulaic reasons that Anna and the French Kiss is wonderful, but there's something more. Something intangible. There's just something about this book that makes you want to keep reading, then to groan, then to squeal, then to laugh, then to cry, and finally to smile. You become a part of Anna's life. It's like magic.
I love Anna and Etienne. I love how real they feel. Anna moves to Paris scared and angry. Those feelings don't just disappear, but neither does she hide under a rock. She's funny, nice but not too nice, a good friend but capable of holding grudges...the list goes on. Etienne is a fabulous guy. He is smart, friendly, handsome but not perfectly so, flirty without being crude, scared of change. I love how they are both 3-dimensional characters. We all know that a "good book" has realistic, flawed characters, but so few get it right. Sometimes I feel like authors create this perfect person and then throw in some major shortcoming to fulfill their creative writing course formulas. Anna and Etienne (and all the other characters) feel real. They're great people with flaws that aren't huge or weird, but just the type that you or I might have. Moreoever, their flaws fit in with their personalities and the plot of the story.
The relationship between Anna and Etienne builds slowly. Particularly because Etienne has a girlfriend. And Anna has a guy back home that she likes. The two are clearly attracted to one another, but they both toe a line of propriety...although stepping over it a few times. Throughout a lot of the book you just wonder why Etienne doesn't break up with Ellie, but that is explored too. Even if it's not the right decision, it makes perfect sense with his character. Despite the slowness of their relationship, the plot never drags. There's always something interesting happening between Anna and Etienne and Anna's life in general.
The book is almost entirely a romance, but Anna and Etienne are far from the only characters. You have Bridge and Toph back at home. Then at SOAP, Meredith, Josh, and Rashmi. They are quick to welcome Anna into their circle. It's wonderful to read a story where the school plot isn't predominantly about the protagonist being tortured by a popular, mean girl (although there are aspects of that too). Anna, Etienne, Meredith, Josh, and Rashmi are a close group of friends; despite their internal drama, I really wish I'd found a group as cool as them when I was in high school.
And Paris. Who doesn't love Paris? The city isn't actually as big a character as I thought it might be. The story really could have been set in any big city and have been just as interesting. But I love how Paris is used as a supporting character. The sights the characters visit, the influence of French culture. It adds to the book but never overshadows it.
If I had any criticisms about this book, it might be the depictions of Anna and Etienne's fathers. They are depicted as one-dimensional jerks. Arguably, this is realistic because teens don't have the best perspective to view their parents as full people. But, still. So that's my only tiny criticism.
I cannot recommend Anna and the French Kiss highly enough. It is a model for what contemporary fiction can and should be. Truly marvelous.
Rating: 5 / 5