#7: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Once upon a time there was a bandwagon that I was too stubborn and busy to jump on, even though all of my reader-friends who know me the best tried over and over again to pull me up along with them. Then Ms. Perkins finally showed up on a syllabus, and y’all know about me and syllabi – I obey, I follow, I worship.
The name of that bandwagon? Stephanie Perkins.
Now, I earlier this week I told a lie. When talking about how much I liked Anna’s follow-up – Lola and the Boy Next Door – I said that I am always looking for romance authors that I liked as much as Sarah Dessen. This is false. I am interested in new contemporary YA romances, but I rarely actually read them. I do not know why. Maybe because I am busy reading other stuff. Maybe because I am busy re-reading actual Sarah Dessen books. Maybe because I don’t feel like I need a “new” Sarah Dessen, because, um, she’s still writing new books regularly.
Or maybe because every time a new romance comes out, everyone insists that “fans of Sarah Dessen will just love this!” and then I read it and wonder what Dessen these reviewers are reading. Just because there is a boy and a girl who fall in love by the end of the book does not make the book any good.
We have established that I am a weird, old curmudgeon about teen romances, which makes me even weirder and curmudgeonly. That being said, Stephanie Perkins completely deserves any Dessen-related comparison. The bandwagon was right, and I am 100% on board.
Anna and the French Kiss has A Girl – Anna, senior, daughter of divorced parents, one of which is a fictionalized Nicholas Sparks of a Dad who thinks sending his daughter to a Paris boarding school for her senior year against her will is a grand idea. She has a best friend and an almost boyfriend at home in Atlanta. She loves films (not movies). She does not speak French.
Anna and the French Kiss also has A Boy – Etienne, senior, son of divorced parents – mother who raised him in LA, wealthy, douchey Parisien Dad.
Anna starts to fall for Etienne, a little bit, but of course Etienne has a girlfriend, and then we have a number of conflicts and oh-they-might-kiss!! moments and later, rinse, repeat, romance.
This could be any not-so-great romance, though. Perkins does the genre its due, yes, but also nails Anna’s narrative voice – quiet but likeable, tentative but not shy, trying to simultaneously discover her interests and motives while navigating the new waters of boarding school without dismantling longstanding social structures (see: Etienne & Girlfriend). The story is well-paced, the writing is smart, the characters are fun and likeable and realistic.
And – get this – you get this weird impression, as you read, that Anna and Etienne, those destined lovers you know will fall in love/hook up/get married before the end of the book? It seems that they actually like each other. This is what makes for a sizzling romance, in my eyes – the slow attraction, the wavering affections, that transition between nothing to friends, friends to more. Nothing Bella & Edward, no Perfect Chemistry.
Call me an old curmudgeon if you want.
But I think Maureen Johnson’s blurb really says it best:
“Very sly. Very funny.Very romantic. You should date this book.”