Sunday, April 10, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is 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. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.
As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?


Oh la la!  That's the first thing that comes to mind as I sit down to review this book!

I suppose it’s possible that I’m biased since I’m a French teacher.  But I really don’t think that’s the case.  “Anna and the French Kiss” is seriously one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and probably among one of my all time favorites.

The funny thing is, I can’t put my finger on WHY I loved this book so much.  It’s true that the descriptions of the Seine and the monuments of Paris and the coffee and brioche made me long to return to France.  Un café au lait avec du pain à tartiner……..miam, miam!  But I digress.

This book was exactly like a good French wine with some cheese.  It is savored, every little morsel providing delight and then at the end, one luxuriates in the joie de vivre of the entire experience.

Just like most experiences with French things that I have had, it’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes the whole thing delectable, but somehow it just is.  That is how this book was for me.  The whole thing was just incredible.  There was nothing really extraordinary about the story.  Boy and girl meet, they like each other but they keep missing opportunities.  There are lots of obstacles, lots of near hits and plenty of near misses.  There is angst and girl drama and all the usual teen story “stuff”.  But somehow, the way the story is told or the charisma of the characters makes it so much more than that.

I found myself unable to put this book down.  I wanted to jump into the pages and live the story with the characters.  There were no vampires, fallen angels or supernatural beings. There’s just a boy and a girl and a city and a story about growing up, finding oneself and making hard choices.  I raced to finish the book, wanting to devour every page, yet dreading the end because it would be over.  Sort of like not wanting to reach the last bite of a good chocolate mousse but wanting to gobble up the goodness. 

The characters were magnifique!  It is so easy to sympathize with poor Anna.  Of course, I couldn’t feel too sorry for someone who got to spend a year in Paris, but I did sympathize with the situation of being sent away without being asked.  She had to give up her senior year experiences and her friends and go to a city where she couldn’t even speak the language.  Even though she had plenty of flaws and made lots of mistakes, I genuinely liked her.

Etienne St. Clair was indescribable.  He was charismatic, très sexy and just a downright nice guy.  Most of the time.  He also made some mistakes that had me wanting to strangle him, but they were never so bad that I didn’t like him.  In fact, I think you can’t help but love him dearly.

Maybe what makes this book so incredible is that it is so real.  The story felt like it could really happen.  There’s a happy ending, but there are still real things to be dealt with and handled.  Yet, I know that it will all be ok.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be real life good.

Maybe that’s the true appeal of this book.  It’s a story that could be real.  Anna doesn’t immediately get the cute guy, learn to speak fluent French overnight and suddenly turn into a chic French woman within a month.  But she does grow as a person and become better.  So does Etienne.  And everyone else for that matter.  They all grow up a little and everyone ends in a good place for the moment.

Or maybe it’s just the beautiful backdrop of Paris…..

But I don’t think that’s it.  Of course, the atmosphere of Paris doesn’t hurt.  There is a saying that says “ A breath of Paris is good for the soul.”  I think that this book provides just that breath.

I give this book a solid A+ (better than Anna’s grades in French!) and it is a likely candidate for my top 5 list for the year.  Go get this book as soon as you can.  And make sure you bring home a croissant with it.  Bonne lecture! ("Happy reading" for those non-French folks out there!)