Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Series: Stand-Alone (though Perkins is releasing a book in September which I believe is a companion novel)
Anna can't wait for her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a good job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's not too thrilled when her father unexpectedly ships her off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair, the perfect boy. The only problem? He's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her crush back home. Will a year of romantic near-misses end in the French kiss Anna awaits?
This book started popping up on the blogosphere back in December and January. When I first saw it, my first thought was "ew" -- look at that cover! and the title! augh! The premise also sounded kind of drama-ish and not really my thing, so I quickly dismissed the book and moved on with my life.
But then, all the positive reviews started piling up. Every review I've read has exclaimed about how book is amazing, and subsequent reviews reinforced how this title has really lived up to its hype. This intrigued me, so I kept it in the back of my mind. Then, John Green read and gushed over this book and John Green being one of my favorite YA authors, that's when I decided that I needed to read this book. But alas, the TBR pile is teetering, so I didn't read it for months and months. Finally, when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago picking up The Dark Mirror, I perused the YA section of my library and discovered that they had it. Despite having a still-teetering TBR pile at home, I decided I couldn't leave the library with just one book and picked it up, since I've been wanting to read it for so long anyway.
Anyways, that's a lot of preamble. This is all to say: I didn't want to read this book, then I really wanted to read this, and now I have!! And the final verdict..? This book definitely lives up to the hype.
It's not a "deep" read by any means, but it's the best kind of lighthearted reads: it's sweet without rotting my brain, fluffy without being suffocating and the best kind of comfort reading; I can see myself coming back to this book again and again.
Where Perkins truly shines here is in her characters. Anna, our protagonist, is a perfect blend of social awkwardness without falling into the cliche of being the typical "outcast" character, and confidence, without being unlikable or TOO confident. She's the kind of girl who I think I could've been really good friends with in high school, if she were real and not fictional (though I might be a teensy bit jealous of her, being such good friends with Etienne and all, but more on him later.) I felt bad for her, being stranded in Paris against her will and all, and I loved that she made self-deprecating comments about her predicament (I don't have any direct quotes, but they were basically: "Oh boohoo for me, being stuck in an amazing city like Paris." -- so at least she realized she was in an enviable situation in some ways.) Her first-person narration was also really funny at times, and very authentic; I felt like I was actually reading a teenager's thoughts, not an adult trying to sound like a teenager.
Anna makes friends at her boarding school in Paris, and what was great about all of them was that they didn't feel merely like appendages. They had real problems and things going on in their lives that only happen in Anna's peripheral vision, so while we the readers and Anna only see snippets of it, it's still happening in the background and Anna gets reprimanded a few times (by herself and from others) from not noticing her friends' problems. This made the secondary seem like real people, as opposed to being present only to drive the plot forward.
And Etienne! I can't forget him. Okay, so I have a hard time understanding how readers can 'swoon' over fictional characters and find them hot. I can see why characters in the novel itself might feel that way, but us as readers? I don't know, I just don't get those feelings myself. Well, I totally felt some swoon when it came to Etienne. The guy's not PERFECT (he bites his nails, he's very short, etc.) but he's so sweet!! I could just imagine that tously hair and british accent and just.. nngg.. no wonder Anna experienced some insta-attraction to him (not to be confused with insta-lurrvvee.)
Anna and Etienne's growing romance is obviously the focus of the novel, and it was really well handled. Like I mentioned above, Anna experiences some major insta-attraction to Etienne, but I mean, can you blame her? I also loved that she makes a point of being Etienne's FRIEND; despite already having a girlfriend, Etienne does give Anna the chance to make her feelings to him very clear, but she opts not to because she knows it'll only complicate things for him. This kind of selflessness not only makes Anna that much more likable, but it also made me believe all the more in her feelings for him -- she was more concerned about his overall happiness than an absolute need for him to be her everything, and vice versa. This was extremely refreshing to read in a market that is saturated with instant-love being deemed normal and something to vie for. I also liked the portrayal (or lack of) of Etienne's girlfriend Ellie. We only see her twice in the course of the entire novel, but I think I liked that more than if she were a constant presence in their group of friends. It would've been too easy to paint Ellie as a real bitch and pit her against Anna. Instead, we don't really get to make any judgments about her because she's never around; we just know that things between her and Etienne aren't really good. I'm just glad that Perkins steered away from making Ellie an antagonist.
One last thing and I'll wrap this up: one of my hugest peeves in literature is when misinformation or a lack of information pushes events forward (I mentioned this in my review of The Dark Mirror). Well, there is some of that in this novel, BUT, it's handled very realistically. Most teenagers, especially girls, over-analyze and think over stupid little details constantly, and Anna is no exception. So, because Anna over-analyzes some things that Etienne says and does, some plot elements move forward in such a way that there wouldn't be a novel to write if Anna had acted differently. Like I said, this normally drives me CRAZY when authors do this, but Perkins does it while still staying true to her characters, and to typical teen behaviour.
ALSO, this book made me really, REALLY want to go back to Paris (I was lucky enough to go in high school on a class trip). Especially for the food. There's one scene in the novel where Anna is describing being in a bakery that made my mouth water. YUM.
Final Verdict: This book is CUTE, and I don't mean that in a derogatory way. It's seriously one of the best novels I've read this year and it's mostly due to its very solid characterization. We have due adorable main characters who can't help but root for, even though you know they're going to end up together by the end of the novel (how can they not?), because it's not the end result that really matters, but the journey there, which is a delight to experience. I would compare this novel to comfort food without being complete junk food either, you know? It's a perfect blend of sweet, fun and lighthearted and is a definite recommend. That's a lot coming from me too, because normally books that focus on romance aren't really my thing, but this was really well done. I can't wait to read Perkins' next novel (Lola and the Boy Next Door), which is slated to come out this September.
Cover Commentary: BLECH!! As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I initially dismissed this book completely because of its hideous cover. Sure, there are definitely worse, but just... guh... I don't like it.