Monday, October 8, 2012

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

After meeting Stephanie Perkins at Leaky Con, I pushed this book to the top of my TBR piles. She was awesome! I was only a quarter way through this book before I decided to order Lola and the Boy Next Door online. I was hoping it would be here today, but alas, tomorrow is a new day.
This is one of those books where I don’t recall ever hearing a negative thing mentioned. The blogs love Perkins, my friends (who don’t blog) love Perkins, and overall I didn’t want to go into this with too much expectation, but it was inevitable that I would. Thankfully, in this case though, my high expectations were met and I just fell in love with this one completely!
This is sort of one of those classic YA coming of age in boarding school type stories. And while a lot of it is rather formulaic, what seriously makes this book unique and stand-out-able are the characters. That and the fact that the school the main character is shipped to is in Paris, and she doesn’t speak French. Anna’s dad is famous for writing tear-jerking bestsellers that mostly seem to involve cancer, and with the success of his books and his books turned to movies, he decides his family needs a little more culture –hence the shipping of Anna to Paris, France for her senior year of high school.
At first Anna is devastated and terrified. She doesn’t ever venture out of her school because she can’t speak French. She won’t even order food at her school cafeteria because she is too afraid of what the chef will think of her. At home, she has a fantastic best friend, a younger brother to take care of because her busy/divorced parents aren’t always around for him, and a crush/movie theater co-worker who is just turning into something more than a crush. Despite Anna’s father’s growing wealth, he gives her very little money, and Anna works to make more. It’s not too big of a deal until she starts attending a school in Paris with the children of senators and she realizes more and more of her father’s misgivings.
But once Anna makes friends in Paris, and discovers that Paris is actually the home to cinema (her big passion), Paris becomes a lot more bearable. She also has a new crush (who unfortunately is dating someone else). There’s long distance emails and phone calls. There’s first nights out drinking. And every single scene where Anna is alone with Etienne St. Clair is just pure magic. Paris is magic when the two of them are together. There’s tourist sites, and small cinemas, and graveyards, and unbelievable French restaurants that had me drooling in hunger.
This book is about growing up and overcoming your fears. It’s about love and family. It’s about realizing who your true friends and family are. It’s about falling in love for the first time. All those super awkward moments where Anna and Etienne were just lying next to each other and not touching, and all the tension between them at the movie theaters was just so spot-on! Add that to some remarkable phone/email conversations and the romance here was pure YA romance bliss (seriously). There were some tough things in this book too. There was divorce, breakups, lying among friends, forgiveness, cancer, and a lot of family drama. And Anna is not perfect. There were a lot of things I wished she could of realized earlier. But her imperfections just made her all the more believable.
There’s this moment after a phone call with Etienne, when Anna finally starts to feel happy at home again and Perkins writes, “And for the first time since coming home, I’m completely happy. It’s strange. Home. How I could wish for it for so long, only to come back and find it gone. To be here, in my technical house, and discover that home is now someplace different” (250).  There is this feeling I had the first time I came home after being away at college –this feeling or this loss of understanding of what home means. It’s like you expect the whole world to stay on pause while you’re gone and growing up, but actually your family grows and changes too. And this is such a small part of this book, but it is a part that stuck with me.
This is a book compiled of small parts that stick with you. Add these memorable moments to the slow building romance and to the setting of Paris, and frankly, I don’t know how it could have been much better. The other characters were really strong as well. I kind of wish I knew them a little bit better, if only because of how awesome they were. They each had their own stories and their own crazy parents.
The school itself seemed to be a steppingstone to any university around the world and the students seemed to all get into remarkable schools. And the food at the school seemed too good to be true…I was jealous. I wish I could experience this school too. And it’s around the time that Anna really realizes the extent of her school’s amazingness (that it actually represents something for other to be jealous of), that I really feel like she grew up. This so gets a 10/10 from me. And here’s hoping that Perkin’s next book arrives to me tomorrow!

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