What's so refreshing about a well-written young adult novel is that teenage characters have no qualms about saying what's on their mind. There's no pretense, no trying to put a good spin on a bad situation. If something sucks, they'll tell you. If something rocks their world, they'll be sure to let you know. That's why Stephanie Perkins' writing in Anna and the French Kiss fizzes and pops off the page. It's filled with chuckle-inducing dead pan humor, spot on references to popular culture and the agony and ecstasy of first love. These American students at a Parisian boarding school have no problem expressing their opinion on everything from gaudy plastic rings to what to order for breakfast, but it takes Anna and Etienne a whole year to find the words to give voice to their true feelings for each other.
Perkins expertly captures the push and pull of a high school romance. With a light, breezy touch, she exposes the confusion and exhilaration the couple undergoes while trying to grasp the power of the attraction that keeps bringing them together. Anna arrives in Paris as a senior transfer student since her dad (a novelist not so subtly portrayed a doppelganger for Nicholas Sparks) feels it would be a good experience for her. Against her will, she is separated from Toph, her movie theater co-worker who just happens to kiss her for the first time on the eve of her departure. Now she doesn't know a soul, can't speak the language and is afraid to leave the confines of the school grounds. That is until she literally bumps into Etienne St. Clair, a dead ringer for Robert Pattinson with great hair and a British accent. Only problem is - he's already in a committed, long term relationship.
The two go on to become fast friends. Etienne builds Anna's confidence to acclimate herself to her unfamiliar surroundings while she provides him with the type of companionship that is sorely lacking in his life. Yet they can't keep their passion from igniting whether it be their legs brushing in a darkened movie theater or the supposedly hidden looks of longing they give each other. Etienne is clearly into Anna, but she is unwillingly to believe it. She's frustrated by the mixed signals he keeps sending her. Anna is the girl he wants to be with, yet he is unwillingly to break-up with his girlfriend. This strands Anna in no man's land. A place no girl wants to be in.
Things heat up over Thanksgiving break when the two are left alone in the dormitory as everyone else heads home to the States. Etienne's mother is undergoing cancer treatment and his domineering father refuses to allow him to visit her. Distraught and undone, it is up to Anna to pull him out of the doldrums. After taking in the delights of the city, they end these stolen days cuddling in Anna's bed. However, when everyone returns, Etienne acts like nothing happened. He distances himself from Anna throwing up a wall after finally letting down his guard.
Sick and tired of Etienne's failure to make up his mind, Anna lashes out. She makes out with another boy. She gets in a fight. She has a little too much to drink on her birthday. Just when she practically alienates herself from everyone in her life, things take an unexpected turn on the wings of a spur of the moment kiss.
Attention to detail makes for a good read and Anna and the French Kiss fits the bill. Paris itself becomes a character in the novel. Indulge in the savory goodness of French pastry. Visit the towering majesty of Notre Dame. Go to a Mom and Pop movie theater. Make a wish on the star at Point Zero. Through all of these new experiences, the city comes alive through Anna's eyes as she falls in love with Paris...and with Etienne.
Overall, the inexperience - of knowing how to deal with the power of love - is charmingly captured.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is available for $16.99 at Amazon.com and at StephaniePerkins.com.
Thank you to Yara for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.