Friday, April 29, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss

First of all, I know it's been a few weeks since my last post.  If you are wondering what I am reading in between posts, I am participating in two challenges this year.  I am reading in the YA Reading Challenge and, on my other blog, Picture Book Reading Challenge (for which the girls and I are trying to read 200 picture books/board books/readers).  I update those on a regular basis, even if I don't actively review them.

For some of you who know me and my reading tastes in real life, there will be no surprises when I tell you how much I loved Anna and the French Kiss.  After all, it has many of my favorite teen book elements in it - romance, friendship, and most important of all, boarding school!  In fact, when a librarian friend wrote to me about this book, she told me "This is a very Susan book!".  And it is - but it is so much more!
Anna Oliphant has been sent off to Paris for her senior year of high school .  Who wouldn't want to go to Paris?  Well, Anna for one.  She loves her life in Atlanta, with a potential new boyfriend, great friends, and a cool little brother.  Not to mention that she took Spanish the other three years of high school.  But her father, a Lurlene McDaniel-like author with a pen name, feels she must go there, and so she does.  She spends her first night at the School of America in Paris homesick and worried. 
The girl next door, Meredith, ends up taking Anna under her wing and introducing her to her friends.  Her group of friends are diverse and cool, including Etienne St. Clair.  One of the first things she learns about Etienne is that he has a girlfriend, so instead of falling in love with him (Anna tells herself) she'll just become his friend.

St. Clair (as the friends call him) and Anna have really strong chemistry.  I believe one of Perkins' strengths as an author is that she creates a believable, strong friendship between Anna and Etienne.  Because they have feelings for each other, they take time to get to know each other.  They spend time visiting all the landmarks of Paris, sitting together in class and learning about each other and their families and friends.  We learn about them, but also get to vicariously enjoy the sidelong glances, hands touching and all of the other signs that this friendship is headed towards romance.

Another thing that makes this novel work is its characters.  While the story revolves around Anna and Etienne, there are many strong characters surrounding them.  For instance, Anna's father is laughable - if he isn't your father.  He specializes in sappy novels, much like Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson.  Anna is embarassed by his novels, the movies made out of his novels and the way he talks to her.  Her father sends her an email telling her he will give her younger brother "her best" when he sees him.  He has arranged this year for the cachet it will give him as well.  Just imagine the author blurb on the back of his next novel, stating that his daughter is "studying in Paris".  Well...I've gotten a little off track here, but I really did love him in his awkwardness and awfulness.

While there is a romantic love story at the heart of this book, this is also a story of friendship.  When Meredith brings Anna into her group of friends, Anna has no idea how much they will shape her year in Paris.  With no French language skills, and coming into a senior class of 25, Anna could have spent the year very lost.  Her friends support her and help her learn her way around the city.  They translate breakfast menus, ticket orders - they help her without judging her or making her feel helpless.  But Meredith has had a crush on Etienne for a long time, and when Anna falls in love with him too, she has to work to maintain her friendship with Meredith.  The friends will all move in different directions as they (mostly) head off to college, but you don't get the sense that they will slip away from each other.  I like that Anna (and Perkins) doesn't emphasize the romance over her friendships.

At the end of the novel, you get the feeling that Anna and Etienne might actually make it - that their romance will last beyond high school and even as they grow and change in college.  To me, that is the mark of a great romance - you can believe in and envision these characters remaining in love as their lives develop.  This is Perkins' first novel, but I am excited to hear that she already has two companion novels in the works - one coming out later this year.  Who doesn't love a great love story?

Anna and the French Kiss.  Stephanie Perkins.  Dutton, 2010.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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