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Review: Anna and the French Kiss

April 11, 2011

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin Teen)
Release Date: December 2, 2010
Pages: 384
Format: Purchased

I bought Anna and the French Kiss on a whim. I’d heard it was really cute, and it’s set in France, and Stephanie Perkins has blue streaks in her hair; all of those things combined sounded pretty good to me, so I said “What the hell,” and just bought the book before I’d read it. This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to some of you, but for me it’s a huge deal. I typically only buy a book if it’s a) by an author I super like or b) I’ve read it before and know that I like it.
Lucky for me, I’m glad I bought the book.
Despite the sort of confusing, but cute title, Anna and the French Kiss isn’t really about kissing. (I mean, there is kissing, but it’s not the focus of the book.) The plot is that Anna Oliphant, a fairly typical American girl, is suddenly yanked out of her fairly typical American life and sent to boarding school in Paris. She is upset by this. I did not understand that reaction. I would have been jumping for freakin’ joy. But, I’ve always been a Francophile and don’t understand those who aren’t. Anyway, she’s shipped off to Paris, and then the book follows her throughout her senior year, adjusting to life in France. (le sigh)
During Anna’s first lonely night in the dorm, she ends up befriending her neighbor and is adopted by her group of friends, which includes the French-British-American guy with a girlfriend, Étienne St. Clair. Anna and St. Clair become fast friends, and Anna grapples with what her real feeling about him are–Is he just a friend? Is she in love with him? Does it even matter since a) he has a girlfriend, and b) they’ll both be headed to college next year? Although that sounds a little cloying, I promise you it is not. In fact, it’s a surprisingly realistic portrayal of senior year, despite the oh-so romantic location.
Sooo let’s talk about the eponymous Anna. She is a main character (MC) that I actually really, really like. Many times, I find myself sort of bored with MCs, and liking the supporting characters much more. I’m not sure why this is, but it is. However, that was not at all the case with Anna. She’s a female character who is funny, smart, confident, and career-oriented. She’s not perfect by any means, but she’s someone who felt real.
In fact, I think Perkins did an amazing job when writing all of the characters in keeping them feeling like people the reader could actually meet and know in real life. I deeply appreciate that all of the characters have flaws, both in physicality and personality. Anna, though described as very pretty, has a large gap between her front teeth and a bleached white streak in her dark hair. (Not that that is unpretty, it’s just not typical of a female MC.) And the love interest, Étienne, is a short dude who is deathly afraid of heights. Although these are little details, they really made the characters memorable for me.
Another part of the book that really resonated with me was when Anna returned to the States for Christmas break and realized just how much she had changed since going to Paris. If you’ve ever studied abroad or gone to camp or to college or had any kind of experience that was pivotal in your life, and then tried to share that with your family and friends who haven’t experienced that, you’ll know exactly what I mean by this–it’s that moment where you’re desperately trying to make them understand just how great a story is or how amazing these new people in your life are, and it just isn’t translating. Perkins did an AMAZING job in capturing this and I felt that those chapters were when I really decided to like the book.
Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this, I did feel that it ran a little too long–not that I was ever bored with the book, but I remember thinking, “Okay. This book could go on forever. There’s no end in sight!” And this is a REALLY minute thing, but it really bothered me that Anna, an aspiring film critic, had no idea that Paris is the city where film criticism was born. I know that most 17-year-olds don’t know that, but…still.  You’d think that someone who wants to be a film critic would have at least Wikipedia’ed it? No? I’m being too harsh? Okay. I am mollified.
Overall, this book is delightful and charming and will ignite your wanderlust in a very, very intense way. I was seriously looking up airline prices by the middle of the book. (Le sigh) So if you’re looking for a fun, contemporary read, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. And when the travel bug starts calling your name, let me know–we can be travel buddies!

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