Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
How refreshing, to read a bright, honest, engaging young adult novel that doesn’t have anything to do with the end of the world, a crazy dystopian future, supernatural powers, or creatures from another realm! Anna and the French Kiss is a thoroughly adorable story of a likeable girl trying to find her way in the world, and it’s so cute that I wanted to hug the book when I was done.
Anna is a 17-year-old high school senior from Atlanta, Georgia, whose bestselling author father has decided that what she needs is to spend senior year not with her friends at home, but at an elite boarding school for American students in Paris. Anna is furious and aghast, horrified to be leaving her best friend and her kinda, sorta boyfriend, and absolutely mortified by the thought of showing up in Paris knowing not one single word of French. Anna is so self-conscious about her American-ness that she confines herself to campus and is too afraid to even order food in the rather extravagantly lush school cafeteria.
Luckily for Anna, however, she is adopted by her dorm neighbor Meredith almost instantly, and then meets Meredith’s circle of friends, among whom is the funny, gorgeous, British-accent-sporting Etienne St. Clair. Anna and St. Clair, as he’s called, hit it off immediately and become inseparable friends… although Anna can’t ignore the fact that he makes her heart beat faster whenever he smiles at her. St. Clair brings Anna out of her shell, Anna helps St. Clair through a major family disaster, and hey — it’s Paris! Love is definitely in the air, but obstacles abound, and much of the plot’s suspense and drama come down to a will-they-or-won’t-they back and forth in which neither Anna nor St. Clair manages to communicate their feelings to one another.
There’s a lot to love about Anna and the French Kiss. For one thing, although Anna describes St. Clair as the most beautiful boy she’s ever known, it’s clear that we’re seeing through her besotted eyes. While St. Clair is so charming and charismatic that everyone wants to befriend him, he’s no Edward Cullen or Adonis. St. Clair, in turn, tells Anna that she’s beautiful, but again, the point is not that she’s a stunning model, but rather that she’s an ordinary girl who is beautiful in the eyes of the boy who has fallen for her.
Anna and the French Kiss is a light, enjoyable read, although it does convey some deeper passions and conflicts. Friendships are tested; lessons are learned. Some relationships last, some end bitterly, some simply run out of steam. Parents can be loving and supportive, but some make decisions about their children as a means of carrying out their own desires or furthering their own images. Even the most talented or together of Anna’s circle of friends have insecurities and personal foibles and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. Anna and the French Kiss works because it feels so real. Sure, it’s unlikely that most American teenagers would have the opportunity to find love while running around Paris — but any reader will be able to relate to the ups and downs of friendships, the joys and sorrows of first love, and the challenges of impending adulthood which the characters experience.
I’ve been hearing about Anna and the French Kiss quite a bit from other fans of YA fiction, and I’m happy to report that this is one book that did not disappoint.