Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). 2011. Personal copy. (Hardcopy Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) 2010.
The Plot: Anna’s mostly absent father has decided that Anna should spend her senior year at boarding school in Paris, France. Anna is not pleased about leaving Atlanta, her friends, her crush-almost-a-boyfriend, her mother and younger brother. She will be leaving home soon enough for college, to study film; why leave now?
All because her father (a successful novelist whose books feature family values and tragically dying love interests) has decided it’s a good idea.
Oh, if you’re wondering whether Anna speaks French, the answer is no. She’ll be at the School of America in Paris, so it’s not as if she needs to know it for school. Did I mention that she’s the only new senior?
Lucky for Anna, she quickly meets some fun and cool new friends. Among them is the super cute Etienne St. Clair (bonus points — he has a British accent). St. Clair quickly becomes one of her best friends. Sometimes she wonders if it could be something more, except he has a girlfriend and she has that crush waiting in Atlanta. A lot can happen in a year.
The Good: I loved this book! Love, love, love, and right away went out and bought the companion, Lola and the Boy Next Door, but am saving that for vacation later this summer.
There are so many things to love, I’m afraid I’ll forget one. Or, in talking about one, not give enough credit to another.
First thing to know: this is a romance, and it’s all about the connection and missed opportunities between St. Clair and Anna. He has a girlfriend; she has a possibility; and it just goes from there. Major points to Anna, in that while she falls in like with St. Clair right away, once she learns about his girlfriend she backs away. I’ve written before about how I’m tough on romantic triangles. Here? It’s so perfect — As I said, Anna does her best to keep her emotions in check, due to St. Clair’s girlfriend. So let’s take a look at her: Ellie, who graduated from the School of America in Paris the year before. She is conveniently away, so that Anna does not have to see St. Clair and Ellie being a couple. Also, Ellie is good friends with the crew Anna is now close to, so they all have good things to say about Ellie. Because St. Clair and Anna cannot be together, or even admit their attraction to each other, they instead become friends. Which, I loved.
The reason behind St. Clair’s romantic conflict (flirty/attracted to Anna, staying with Ellie) ends us being something I excuse in a teen (St. Clair, like Anna, is a high school senior) but would be less forgiving of an adult. Why? Because part of this book is also about coming of age; of growing up. Anna, thrust into the world a year before she expected, has to make new friends and figure out how to navigate a strange city with strange food, not knowing the language. More than that, though, Anna also learns about things like forgiveness; how she appears to others; and whether its better to be with someone just to be a couple or to be alone. St. Clair is figuring that out, also. Is it better to be with someone you’re comfortable with, or to take a chance on the new girl? But what if the new girl is making a big deal out of her maybe-boyfriend-at-home? Anna and the French Kiss handles this dilemma beautifully, so that the book is about Anna and St. Clair’s relationship, yes, but also about them both growing up enough to have a relationship. (Hello, this is a romance, which to me means happy-ever-after, so that is so not a spoiler.)
Oh, and when I say “appears to others,” what I mean is the inadvertent signals sent as a result of self-absorption and thinking “its all about me.” Sometimes, people don’t say “hi” in the cafeteria not because they don’t want to say hi to you, but because there are so many things going on they don’t see you. It’s the misunderstandings caused from thinking you know what someone else is thinking, so doing something, and therefore giving unintended signals.
I love that Anna didn’t want to go to Paris. By the second chapter, I wanted to be in Paris, walking those streets, eating that food, visiting the sites. Anna is a film buff, and in Paris she discovers tons of theatres that show American films, including older ones, so she gets to see on the big screen what she had only seen on the TV before. One thing I loved about Anna and the French Kiss: she has a film website, and we don’t read her posts. I appreciated that because it would have detracted from the book.
The supporting cast is all three dimensional, whether it’s the friends she left behind or the new ones she makes in Paris. Each has their own story, and it’s all woven together beautifully.
What else? St. Clair — who Anna eventually calls Etienne — is a great book boyfriend. He is funny and British but not perfect. In addition to the girlfriend, he (like Anna) has a less than perfect father figure. A controlling father’s impact on his child was very realistically drawn; and Etienne’s reactions (like Anna’s to her father) are perfect, and especially perfect for someone Etienne’s age. Oh, another thing — for those who like their relationships to be other than cookie cutter film couples: Etienne is shorter than Anna! Also, Anna has a gap between her two front teeth. It’s those little details that make the characters “real.”
Anna and the French Kiss is sweet, and warm, and fun, and happy-making. I literally smiled my way through it. Because I am still smiling; and because I like knowing there is love and happiness and goodness in the world, and Anna and Etienne and their friends reminded me of that, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
Other reviews: Librarian by Day by Melissa Rabey (who, on Twitter, wisely said this is a hug in book form); Leila Roy at the Kirkus blog; Reading Rants; Angieville; GalleySmith; Stacked Books.