I finally got to the YA novel Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which has been on my reading list for a little while. I’m not always a fan of the chick lit romance, but this one had good reviews and a high recommendation from a writing group pal. Anna is an American high school senior whose father unexpectedly ships her off to an American boarding school in Paris. She’s a slightly neurotic, film-obsessed girl who is basically the classic fish out of water. As the year goes on, Anna becomes closer to her new Paris-based friends, and, inevitably, develops a massive crush on a cute English-American-French boy at her school. The book has some language, some drinking (hey, it’s legal in France!) and some sexual content, but it’s all pretty mild. Anna and her friends are pretty tame for a bunch of eighteen year olds mostly on their own in Paris.
The book was a quick, light read. I liked Anna’s voice a lot. She has a pretty good internal monologue that goes from snappy to reflective without bogging down the pace of the story. The romance is decidedly the center of the book. There’s a lot of back and forth as Anna and her crush become friends, fight, become friends again, fight again, and almost get together but not quite more times than I can count. It’s a bit drawn out from an adult perspective, and some of the friendship stuff is a little melodramatic. However, looking back to my own teenage days, it’s all pretty realistic, though more neatly tied up in that way books have. Partway in, as I realized what a straightforward romance this was, I wasn’t sure if I would end up liking it, but the voice was strong and in the end, I thought it was a fun read.
As an aside, the set up reminded me of a few other, totally different, books. Most notably, I thought of Madeleine L’Engle’s nearly forgotten boarding school romance And Both Were Young, which appears to have gotten a very recent re-release with a spiffy new cover. It’s a book from another era, so if Anna sounds too grown up, I can promise you Flip, L’Engle’s American heroine in a European boarding school who finds romance with a nearby boy and learns to ski, will seem quite tame. For an even younger take with the same out of place American dragged to a European boarding school set up, there’s Sharon Creech’s lesser known Bloomability, which deals more with family issues and finding confidence, two themes Creech is well known for.