This is the story my 16-year-old self would have dreamed in the middle of 7th period math. Anna and the French Kiss is the stuff of my teenage daydreams: boarding school, Paris, gorgeous boy with an English accent. Need I say more? Yes, I think I do. About Paris. And that boy...
Forced by her fame-seeking, image-conscious author father, Anna is enrolled at an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. And she can't be more upset. She's pulled away from friends, an almost-boyfriend, and her younger brother, who might accidentally ingest Red Dye #40 without the vigilant protection of his big sister.
But Paris soon romances Anna and she falls in love with the City of Light: its cinemas, bridges, cathedrals, and pastries... and she's also falling for Étienne St. Clair, a boy who has quickly become one of her best friends. But there are two problems: St. Clair is already taken, and Anna is kinda taken, too. Will Anna and St. Clair's relationship ever move beyond friendship? Will Anna be swept away by love in the most romantic city on earth?
...Which brings me to the issue of the embarrassing title of this book. I've seen this book lauded online and in magazines for months; everyone seems to love it. Why can't it be called Anna in Paris? Or: Anna's Adventures at Boarding School in Which She Meets an American Boy with a French Name and an English Accent. I refrained from reading it until now due to sheer embarrassment. But I was swept away, too, despite the title.
Perkins writes real characters. Anna and St. Clair have dimension; they have faults and vulnerabilities. St. Clair doesn't have the courage to end a stale relationship because he's afraid of being alone and because change is...scary. Anna deals with the insecurity of being in a new school and the tension created by her parents' divorce. The plot bothered me, at first: I'm not into the idea of a person lining up a future someone while they have a current someone. But through Perkins' excellent character and plot development, the reader watches as both Anna and St. Clair mature and grow from their decisions. They learn what it means to do the right thing even if it's the hard thing, they learn the value of friendship, and what forgiveness really means.
And then there was Paris... I was a student in Paris, too, once upon a time. I was there for only five weeks, but I remember what it was to fall in love with that city. Watching Anna fall in love with it called to my mind my own memories of Paris. Anna's first glimpse of Notre-Dame Cathedral:
And then, as we're turning our attention back toward the river, I see it.Notre-Dame....The building is like a great ship steaming downriver. Massive. Monstrous. Majestic. It's lit in a way that absurdly reminds me of Disney World, but it's so much more magical than anything Walt could have dreamed up.
When I first saw Notre-Dame, I cried. Which, admittedly, stemmed as much from being in Hour 37 of being awake as with the grandeur of the Cathedral. But it is majestic and awe-inspiring. It's fun to read the wonder and awe that I felt in another's voice. And I did love Anna's voice. She talks and thinks in crazy ways that I can relate to, "I love that the accent over his first name is called an acute accent, and that he has a cute accent."
It was refreshing to read a Young Adult novel with nothing of the supernatural in it: no mythological creatures, no time travel, no dystopian society demanding blood. Just normal kids living normal lives: crushes, homework, friends, relationships, college plans. Rest assured that Étienne is not a warlock and Anna maintains her mortal humanity to the last page.
Grade: 4/5. Romantic and real. Great plot and character development.
"...we're kissing, at first quickly--to make up for lost time--and then slowly, because we have all the time in the world."