January 19, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss: Review

This is my first read for my "Read Outside Your Comfort Zone" Challenge! As such the review's structured a bit differently (I thought I'd mix it up for these ones).

All right, so I saw countless rave reviews of this book before I picked it up a few days ago and started reading. And when a book gets that much buzz, you start to wonder if it will really live up to it. And I'm sorry, but unfortunately I am going to have to say, that in the case of Stephanie Perkins' novel Anna and the French Kiss...

IT TOTALLY DOES. This fantastic debut deserves all the praise it's getting.

Amazon's description:
Anna was looking forward to 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 less than thrilled about being shipped 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 the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

Why is it outside my comfort zone?

Well, it's not very far out of my comfort zone, but I figured I should start small and ease into it! Based on the cover, title, and even the synopsis, the first time I saw this one I likely dismissed it as "oh yeah, another typical fluffy YA contemporary romance read" and moved on to something else. Plus, it is written in present tense, which isn't my favorite style. But because every blogger was going crazy over it (and John Green, too!), I finally decided to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed out on a wonderful story.

How did it win me over?

Stephanie Perkins has such a deft hand at characterization. She creates flawed characters flawlessly. I loved how richly crafted both Anna and Étienne are—their likes, dislikes, fears, little quirks...all fleshed out and real. Anna gets anxious in some social situations and is a little obsessive; Étienne is afraid of heights, among other things (and incidentally is shorter than Anna. To which I must say: kudos for breaking stereotypes!)

And I definitely appreciated that Perkins wasn't afraid to make her characters intelligent, even geeky. Anna loves going to films, and Étienne is a history buff. They had actual intellectual discussions. And the way that these two characters fit together so beautifully was really amazing. I loved that they became such close friends without being romantically involved, and yet there was a spark there from the very beginning. You can tell they're perfect for one another. But there are obstacles in the way, and Perkins draws out the tension so well that I was thinking, "Just kiss already!" by the halfway point, I'm sure.

While it isn't too difficult to guess where the plot's going, it flows smoothly and the characters and their interactions are so engaging. Plus, Perkins made me like Paris a whole lot more than I used to. My family and I went to Paris in the peak tourist season years ago and we all hated it. It was hot, there were huge long line-ups, everything was so expensive...we were glad to be gone after a couple days. But Anna and the French Kiss makes me think that maybe I should try Paris in the off season.

If I could change something, I would...

I wanted to see the side characters fleshed out some more, both the ones in Paris (Meredith, Rashmi, and Josh) and especially Bridget and Toph back in Atlanta. There's an important plot point that occurs when Anna returns home, and I felt like I wasn't really feeling the emotional side of it with Anna because we hadn't seen enough of the characters involved. Spoiler, highlight to read: we get told that Anna likes Toph, but we don't get to see why. She's spent the majority of her time in Paris with Etienne (and thinking about Etienne), but then when she finds out her best friend is sleeping with the guy she kissed months before, she gets really upset. As a reader I just didn't feel the betrayal that strongly, because there was no agreement between her and Toph, and her feelings about him felt kind of forced. (Plus, who can think about Toph when you've got Etienne around?)

Also, Anna *does* engage in a lot of introspective reflection which, while within character and helping the reader to see her growth, sometimes makes what she's learning from her mistakes a little obvious.

And maybe I just like to see mean characters get their comeuppance, but I would have had something terrible happen to Amanda, because let's face it: she has it coming.

Just one more thing I want to mention: I really liked that it was set at a boarding school, because the whole experience (dorm life, cafeterias, residence advisors) reminded me of university! I really preferred university to high school (one reason I don't read a ton of contemp YA is because they're usually set in high school) and it made the whole book feel a bit more mature to me.

Would I read more like this book? Definitely...although I think I'll be hard-pressed to find another like it! Perhaps the next one by Stephanie Perkins, though...

Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. A romantic story that manages to be sweet and heartfelt without once dropping off into sappy. I want an Étienne.

Recommend for: anyone who wants to snuggle up with a story that will alternately make you sigh with enjoyment, tense up with anticipation, laugh out loud, cringe with shared embarrassment, and awwwww at the cuteness of it all.

Enjoy with: something sweet to nibble on, preferably something chocolate. Seriously. This book will doubtless make you hungry with all its mentions of chocolat chaud and eclairs.

If anyone hasn't signed up yet for the challenge and would like to, just fill in the form below :)


  1. Wow, even outside your comfort zone and this books getting great reviews! I don't know why I have such resistance here. I'm just going to have to pick it up and give it a try.

  2. I've heard a lot about this one but I've just glossed over it thinking it's not my type of thing. I like the idea of it being set in a boarding school. I may give this one a try if I can get it from the library. It's a good idea to move slowly out of your comfort zone :)

  3. I wasn't initially interested in this one either, but heard so many great things about it, that I decided to try it, and I loved it!

    I've always wanted to go to Paris, and I always plan to go on trips in the off season. We should totally go together! ;)

    And in regards to Toph/Bridget (without being spoilerish, I hope)- I understood because it wasn't about Toph as much as it was about Bridget. I think the biggest problem was Bridget not telling her anything. Kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. It wasn't Toph's betrayal, it was Bridget's.

  4. Oo I love this idea! I've heard people raving about this one too, and though I don't do a whole lot of contemporary (Sarah Dessen excepted. But come on, it's Sarah Dessen!) this one sounds too amazing to miss! Thanks for the great review! I love the way you structured it =)

  5. Great review!! I'm liking the new structure you're using for your challenge too :) I'm going to have to read this book soon because it sounds lovely.

  6. Gah! I have this one in my current reading pile. Must move it up! So glad that it lived up to the hype and your expectations. Looking forward to reading it. :)

  7. It's the absolute worst when a book doesn't live up to high expectations so I'm SO glad you enjoyed it! Every time I read a review for it, it makes me want to go and re-read the book...AGAIN. So ridiculous. :P

    Great review and definitely a great start to the challenge (which I'll definitely be signing up for soon!)!

  8. I'm glad it lives up to the buzz! The booksnob in me wanted to pass this one over since it sounds totally cheesy, but I've changed my mind after hearing so many good things about it.
    Paris is beautiful, I've been there a couple of times and if you have the chance, go in the spring or early fall, it's not so overly crowded then.
    You mentioning chocolate makes me want to go and eat some..

  9. Great review! Still haven't read this one yet but it would definitely be considered outside my comfort zone, as well, as it's contemporary.

  10. YAY! So glad you enjoyed this one as well Danya, it was one of my favorite reads last year. I love when a book is worthy of all the hype:) Fantastic review!


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