Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna can’t wait for her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s not too thrilled when her father unexpectedly ships her off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all… including a serious girlfriend. 

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps up the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

This book… I had a rocky relationship with this book as I was reading it. For the first half, I was with it 100% and following the story without any reservations. And then, the story went in certain… directions. And I felt so let down! These directions were not what I wanted to have happened, but there the story went. And even though the ending wrapped things up in a manner I was comfortable with, I still can’t help but feel aggrieved that the story went in those directions when it was doing so well before! However, I should back up and explain.

The reason why I fell in love with the first half of this story was because the author did an absolutely wonderful job setting up the romance. Anna’s been forced to attend boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, something she is no way happy about. Luckily, she manages to become part of a close-knit group of friends from the previous year, of whom one of the members is the cute guy with the English accent and the funny name. And a girlfriend.

The first wonderful thing about their relationship is that she decides she is not going to go into pining over Étienne like her other female classmates. Instead, she focuses on being his friend, first and foremost. The second wonderful thing is that this decision actually leads to the development of a very solid, satisfying friendship between the two of them. Even though there are romantic feelings on both sides, they both take the time to get to know each other inside out before all the drama is unleashed in a cloud of “does he love me, why won’t he tell me?” angst. I am all about romantic relationships being built off of friendships, and the development of their relationship is the sweetest thing ever to read about, particularly Anna’s slowly growing attraction for Étienne.

Similarly, I appreciated how Anna developed meaningful connections with other people and not just Étienne. I really liked the group dynamics of the group of friends as a whole. It felt very realistic, what with people having different types of relationships with each other at varying levels of strength. I enjoyed their conversations, the time they spent together, and the way Anna slowly makes connections with everyone in the group.

Anna’s pretty adorable. She’s a normal, every-day sort of person without being flat as cardboard. She has her own brand of humor, as well as likes and dislikes. I particularly liked her passion for movies and cinema and how she wants to be the first major female film critic. I also enjoyed reading about her explorations of Paris and how she deals with its aura of, history, sophistication, and grandeur. Étienne was a genuinely nice guy, even if he does look too good to be true on paper. Still, even though everything is told through Anna’s viewpoint, Étienne is well-drawn such that I understand just what makes him so special to her. He’s smart, adorable, makes her laugh, and many of his actions, no matter how tiny, show just how much he’s gotten to know her as a person and how he loves the person that she is.

And then there reaches a turning point where things start going downhill. I don’t want to go into too much detail due to unavoidable spoilers as to how the relationship ends up as it does. Essentially after all the students return to school from the winter holidays, a ton of drama is introduced into the story. The first half was of the beginnings of a relationship developing in a realistic, organic manner as Anna and Étienne slowly come to care for each other. But two-thirds of the way through, they start to have multiple misunderstandings – most of which could have been solved if they’d actually TALKED about their frustrations as opposed to assuming what the other felt. Anna in particular makes some pretty stupid decisions, solely to piss off Étienne. I was not pleased that that was the direction the story took, as it gave the impression that this was the only way the author felt like she could keep the story going and prolong the tension. I felt like all that organic development of a romantic relationship got chucked in favor of multiple, explosive Big Misunderstandings.  Big Misunderstandings can work, but only if used sparingly and judiciously. I did not feel that this happened.

In the end, Anna does realize just how stupid she was concerning many of the assumptions she had, decisions she made, and things she said. And their lack of communication did start off in the realm of rationality, even if it ended up in the exact opposite place later on. I did enjoy spending my time with Anna and Étienne and I legitimately believed they had a solid, shared history in which to ground their relationship in and that their feelings for each other were genuine. The scene in which they finally get together is suitably romantic and “awww”-inducing. I just wish it hadn’t taken all of that noisy drama to get them there.

Speaking of which, I did not like how Amanda, the classmate whose sole seeming purpose for existing is to hate on Anna, was written. I am not a fan of characters that are mean and bitchy to the main character just for the sake of being mean and bitchy.

Still, this was an enjoyable, well-written book, and for the first half I was convinced it would be one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It didn’t end up being so, but the negatives don’t cancel out the number and strength of the positives. Considering I can get really picky about romance novels, and even more so with YA romance novels, the fact that the overall relationship worked for me says something.  Outside of the Big Misunderstandings, the author has a lot of skill in terms of crafting various connections people make with each other, both platonic and romantic. I do plan on reading Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Disclosure – library

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