Wednesday, December 15, 2010

REVIEW: Anna and the French Kiss by @naturallysteph--I'm booking my flight to Paris now

Perkins, S.  (2010).  Anna and the French Kiss.  New York:  Dutton Books.

372 pages.

Appetizer:  In an effort to seem more worldly, Anna's nouveau rich dad decides to send her to boarding school in Paris for her senior year.  The problem is Anna can't decide if she wants to be there or not.  She doesn't know much French and is afraid to leave the school's campus.  She misses her little brother and her best friend.  Plus, the boy she'd had a crush on in Atlanta, Toph, had finally kissed her on her last day of work at the movie theater.  And now that she's in Paris, Anna is making new friends and may even be crushing on one of those friends, St. Clair.  But he has a girlfriend.  And plus another of their friends, Meredith, also has a crush on him.  And Anna is waiting to be with Toph, right?  No matter where Anna is, romance is proving to be complicated.

Anna and the French Kiss is the type of book in which the character's voice and the author's writing just welcomes you in and you can't find a reason to stop reading to do unnecessary things like watch movies, talk to family, work on your dissertation, eat or go to the bathroom.  Okay, I still took potty breaks.  But I didn't want to stop reading.

Stephanie Perkins does an excellent job of bringing realistic characters and the Parisian setting (or what I can remember of it--my experience of Paris is limited to four days of a European tour) to life.  It's a great fun romantic read.  I was very impressed by how realistic her characters and their emotions were.  So much of this story feel true.  Perkins captures the complicated dynamics of friendship amazingly well, the feelings of being frightened of a living in a foreign city even better.  This is a great escape for young adult readers who know nothing of Paris or for those who are francophiles.

Before I picked this book up, I had VERY high expectations.  It seems that everyone who has ever seen this book has fallen in love with it.  I'll admit, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It will definitely be at the top of my list as a book recommendation to my students who say they love romance.  But it didn't capture me the way that some other contemporary YA romance books have in the past.  While I chuckled at many points, the story was a bit angsty for me.  Anna kept calling a certain someone beautiful.  And while Anna clung to the hope of a certain someone finally choosing to be with her, I probably would have written the guy off and declared myself "ooover him!"  (So, you can imagine that I found a couple passages in which Anna described being in love with this certain someone to be over the top.  But that's me.  I have, in my day, been accused of being heartless.  And by "in my day," I mean a couple of weeks ago.)

I thought Anna's struggles were relatable.  (I especially liked that she felt trepidation about actually speaking French with French people.  I'm like that too.)  But with all of the stunning reviews in the blogosphere, I had expected the book to have a little more quirk or twistiness to it.  I suppose this is one of those cases where my expectations were to high.  But that's me.  If you're reading this review, then maybe your expectations will be at just the right level to boil and you'll be able to fall in love with the book, no problem.  I, alone, will have to be stuck simmering in "friends with benefits" appreciation for Anna and the French Kiss.  There are much worse places to be.

Dinner Conversation:

"Here is everything I know about France:  Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.  The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is.  Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis.  I'm not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day.  The art museum is called the Louvre and it's shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with the statue of the woman missing her arms.  And there are cafes or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner.  And mimes.  The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.
I've heard they don't like Americans, and they don't like white sneakers" (p. 3).

"And then my mother does something that, even after all of the paperwork and plane tickets and presentations, I don't see coming.  Something that would've happened in a year anyway, once I left for college, but that no matter how many days or months or years I've yearned for it, I am still not prepared for when it actually happens.
My mother leaves.  I am alone" (p. 8).

"The beautiful boy gives an amused grin.  His teeth are lovely--straight on top and crooked on the bottom, with a touch of overbite.  I'm a sucker for smiles like this, due to my own lack of orthodontia.  I have a gap between my front teeth the size of a raisin.
"Etienne," he says.  "I live one floor up."
"I live here."  I point dumbly at my room while my mind whirs:  French name, English accent, American school.  Anna confused" (p. 16).

"I want to go home, but I have to admit I've enjoyed tonight.  And what if this is the only time in my entire life I visit Paris?  I know I just told St. Clair that I don't want to be here, but there's a part of me--a teeny, tiny part--that's curious.  If my father called tomorrow and ordered me home, I might be disappointed.  I still haven't seen the Mona Lisa.  Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Walked beneath the Arc de Triomphe.
So what else do I want?
I want to feel Toph's lips again.  I want him to wait.  But there's another part of me, a part I really, really hate, that knows even if we do make it, I'd still move away for college next year.  So I'd see him this Christmas and next summer, and then...would that be it?
And then there's the other thing.
The thing I'm trying to ignore.  The thing I shouldn't want, the thing I can't have.
And he's standing in front of me right now" (pp. 86-87).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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