Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book #8: Anna and the French Kiss

I found Stephanie Perkins's YA novel Anna and the French Kiss on the same best books list as Before I Fall, which I read and reviewed about two weeks ago. Upon first reading a blurb about the book, you'd probably think to yourself, Oh, another high school YA story of will they or won't they get together in the end. And, yes, while I suppose the most obvious storyline in the book is whether Anna and her new best friend Etienne will finally acknowledge how they feel about one another, that's only just a part of the book.

The story starts out with Anna from Georgia, about to begin her senior year in high school, being forced to attend school at the School of America in Paris. She doesn't speak French; she doesn't feel comfortable in such a new place; she's leaving her best friends, her potential boyfriend, and her beloved younger brother behind. All because her father, who writes sappy cancer-themed tear-jerkers that live on the bestsellers list despite being absolute drivel, wants to say that his daughter is cultured. Needless to say, Anna is not happy.

But she is lucky, because she immediately falls into a tight group of friends at the school. They start to help her get out of her shell, show her where the local cinemas are, help her learn enough French to get by--especially Etienne, the cool-without-trying boy on whom every girl apparently crushes. He likes hanging out with Anna--a lot. We only get to hear Anna's thoughts about what's going on, but it's pretty obvious that both Anna and Etienne are perpetually talking themselves out of getting together because of Etienne's continued relationship with another girl.

Sure, that does sound a bit trite (at least there are no vampires!). But behind the "will-they-won't-they," there are some great themes about seizing the opportunities that you might not have wanted, learning to really communicate with the people you care about, dealing with less-than-ideal family situations, and defining what "home" is on one's own terms. Set with Paris as a backdrop, and peppered with rapid, witty dialogue, Anna and the French Kiss achieves all the good that can come from a YA novel that is ultimately about a relationship.

I'd suggest this book to readers who enjoy boarding school relationship stories (think Looking for Alaska) or realistic stories about coming to terms with new surroundings. Older YA girls in particular who enjoy realistic high school stories would probably like this book.

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