Saturday, 12 October 2013
#CBR5 Book 126. "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins
Rating: 4 stars
Anna Oliphant doesn't want to go to school in Paris. She's not sure why her father (who basically seems to be a thinly veiled parody of Nicholas Sparks) has enrolled her in a boarding school there. She had perfectly nice life in Atlanta with her mum and little brother, a great best friend, a very promising crush on one of the guys she works with at the local multiplex. Now she's a continent away from everyone she loves, surrounded by clever and cool teenagers who all know the school really well. She doesn't even speak French! Then she meets Étienne St. Clair, who is helpful, generous, charming, smart and gorgeous. Of course, he has a girlfriend. And even if he didn't, her new friend Meredith also obviously has a crush on him. So Anna is unlikely to experience any French kissing from him, right?
Now, at the start of the book, I was torn between wanting to slap some sense into Anna, and give her a hug. Her excessive whining that her pompous, somewhat emotionally unavailable, but very rich father has see fit to send her to a posh boarding school in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is pretty much what you'd find in the dictionary as an example of first world problem. Yet at the same time, she's never been away from home before and she's an insecure teenage girl, and now she's half a world away from everyone and everything she knows, in a foreign country full of culture and sophistication. It speaks to her dad's cluelessness that he'd send his daughter to a boarding school in a country where she doesn't even speak the language. As someone who voluntarily moved to Scotland to go to University when I was eighteen, and had some pretty big culture shocks, I can understand and symphatise, because Anna's situation is so much scarier.
Luckily, Meredith, the girl in the room next to Anna comforts her when she hears her crying through the wall, and Anna soon makes a group of very good friends, one of whom is St. Clair (no one really calls him Étienne). Realising that he's completely out of her reach, Anna denies her crush as much as she can, but they have undeniable chemistry, and the more time they spend together, the more obvious it is that he's not entirely uninterested in her either. Yet he seems completely devoted to Ellie, his girlfriend who graduated the year before. And Anna has Toph back in Atlanta, who she may have a chance of a real relationship with.
This is a great YA book, with a friendship turning slowly more and more romantic, full of awkward moments, embarrassment and near misses. For all that they are great characters, both Anna and St. Clair had me shouting at the book, because they keep doing the exactly wrong thing and sabotaging their happy ending. The description of a close friendship that turns into something more romantic is so very well done. I was very good friends with my now husband before I woke up one day, realising that I was in love with him, and it was nerve-wracking to think I might ruin our friendship if I told him I fancied him and he didn't like me back. Also, he'd been dating another good friend of mine for a week. As it turned out, she wanted to date someone else, and he did like me back and this is our thirteenth year together. But this book hit a lot of right notes for me.
It helps that the supporting cast of characters are so much fun too. Anna's friendship with her bestie in Atlanta, Bridgette, is complicated when she returns home for Christmas break, but she makes some great friends at the School of America in Paris. As is only appropriate in a high school setting, even though it's in beautiful Paris, there are also antagonists with bitchy mean girls and douchy guys to fully round out the setting. I've been seeing this book raved about on a number of review sites for years, and my beloved Rainbow Rowell rated it five stars. I'm glad I finally had a chance to read it.