14 March 2012

Review 23: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

"Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theatre, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's not too pleased when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year. But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new friends, including the handsome Etienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken - and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's been waiting for?"

I had really high hopes for this as Stephanie Perkins has an excellent reputation in the YA market and I had seen positive reviews of this and her newer novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, on a fair few American YA blogs. Unfortunately I found it rather average and Anna herself can be somewhat annoying. It was enjoyable enough to read a few chapters every so often but I found myself reading a more substantial novel at the same time. Its strength is the way that Perkins manages to genuinely connect to her readers and therefore I am really in favour of this book as anything that gets teenagers enthusiastic about books and reading is fine by me.

First Line: 'Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.'

I had come across various positive references to this book in the YA blogosphere and it seems to be incredibly popular amongst its target audience of teenage girls so I was eager to give it a read as I am always keen to find new YA books that will be popular with my students. Whilst I think that it is well tailored to its audience, it doesn't really hold the attention of adult readers and the somewhat irritating personality traits of our heroine, which are very relatable to teenagers, become frustrating for adults to read about endlessly. Before I talk more about the book, I also want to mention the really bad cover. I would embarrassed reading this in public and my dislike of stock photos or models on book covers is well documented. My copy was also printed weirdly and not all of the pages were the same size, I had a section of slightly smaller pages, then a section of slightly larger pages as though they hadn't been trimmed, so the book looked almost stripy from the side. I don't know if this is because it is American or just an anomaly in the printing run, anyway it was annoying.

Anna is American and for a somewhat random and vague reason her father decides she should spend her senior year at an international boarding school in Paris. Her father is a writer of Nicholas Sparks type fiction, and I enjoyed the not-so-subtle digs at Sparks and despite her mother living happily with her brother, Anna is sent away. Once you choose to ignore the odd reasons for Anna going to Paris, the next grievance is that Anna is so reticent to the idea. I understand that as a teenager the prospect of studying abroad in a country where you know no-one and don't speak the language would be a little scary but it's Paris! I work in a school I'm pretty sure that all of our sixth formers would jump at the chance to study in Paris for a year. Anna takes a while to get warmed up to Paris and stays in her room a lot, generally irking me but eventually she makes some friends and starts exploring. I suppose I'm being a little too hard on her, she is a pretty typical teenager but she makes some really stupid decisions and can be massively selfish but I suppose this is a pretty common teenage, if not human, approach to life. And clearly many girls really really identify with her, judging by the super enthusiastic review on Goodreads. I'm all for teenagers finding books that they love and heroines and heroes they really identify with as these are the books that make us love reading so if this is that book for them then I'm ultimately all for it.

The group of friends that Anna makes are actually rather more appealing than Anna herself with a variety of characters for teen readers to empathise with. Included in this group is St. Clair, the beautiful French/English/American boy with a girlfriend. St. Clair introduces Anna to some of the charms of Paris and they clearly are interested in each other, despite the girlfriend and the fact that Anna's new friend Meredith also is interested in him. Perkins goes to great lengths to make sure we know St. Clair's girlfriend is not very nice and that him and Anna are perfectly suited but there are still some moments that make it harder for you to root for them. St. Clair, on the whole, is a good hero and one that will sweep teenage girls off their feet with his accent and quirky ways. Along the way we find out that St. Clair's first name is Etienne, which I wholeheartedly approve of as an excellent name for a romantic hero.

Ultimately, this is a well written but formulaic romance with the bonuses of some great supporting characters and a wonderful setting. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Paris and in particular all the food they eat. I'm glad that our characters make the most of Parisian food rather than being obsessed with avoiding 50% butter pastries. It seems to really speak to a lot of teenage readers and therefore despite my personal reservations, I would recommend it to girls aged 12 - 16.

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