Anna And The French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
Anna’s parents, for no discernible reason have deemed that she should spend her senior year of high school studying at the School of America in Paris. Anna doesn’t speak French and has never expressed any particular interest in visiting the City of Light (although she’s not entirely averse to pastries) so can only surmise that the reason she finds herself a stranger in a strange land is that her dad is, well, a bit of a wally. She’s right. Finding herself somewhat adrift in a city where she suspects the locals are particularly disdainful of Americans she is relieved to find that her dorm next door neighbour is a friendly girl called Mer. Mer quickly absorbs Anna into her own group of friends: irascible Rashmi, artistic Josh, conspicuous-by-her-absence Ellie and the shockingly attractive Etienne St. Clair. Drawn to St. Clair like an American tourist to white sneakers, Anna struggles to keep her feelings under wraps – but can she really resist this charming stranger when he decides to introduce her to the most romantic city in the world?
Anna is a refreshingly straight-forward character. The story is told from her point of view and her voice conveys all the awe, terror, confusion and curiosity of starting a new school in a country where you cannot speak the language – at all. She’s also extremely funny and her somewhat awkward encounters not only with St. Clair but also with her new friends, the French locals and the obligatory mean girl are frequently hilarious. Her inner battle regarding her feelings for St. Clair is at once believable and touching. She knows he has a girlfriend, she knows that Mer is also interested in him and she knows that she herself is kind-of-sort-of-maybe dating a boy from back home but her crush just grows and grows and grows. Anna isn’t the kind of girl who sets out to steal someone else’s boyfriend, though, and while her behaviour perhaps isn’t entirely honourable at all times, she does try her hardest to do the right thing. Josh, Rashmi and Mer all play important (if small) roles in Anna’s story as does Bridgette (her friend back in the U.S). While Ellie rarely appears in person, Mer and Bridgette’s characters are subtly used to give readers, and Anna, perspective on what it might be like to be on Ellie’s side of the fence.
And then there is St. Clair. Anna refers to him at one point early on as an “English French American Boy Masterpiece” and that just about sums it up. He is the most delightful male character that I’ve come across since reading Joe Fontaine (The Sky Is Everywhere, also a delicious French/American hybrid) and it is impossible not to join Anna in her overwhelming swoons. However, like Joe, he is far from perfect. He has issues with being on his own, can’t quite leave the past behind and is clearly wooing (albeit extremely chastely) Anna while he has a girlfriend. Yet it’s all horribly easy to explain away because St. Clair hasn’t had the easiest time of it, really, and things don’t seem to be getting better for him and, in the end, he does do the right thing – in a bumbling, awkward…boy-ish, sort of way. At times his complete lack of action becomes incredibly irritating but he’s such a well written character that he’s impossible not to like.
The writing in Anna and The French Kiss is exceedingly good, extremely funny and breathlessly romantic. Stephenie Perkins has imbued her largest character – Paris itself – with real warmth and beauty, presenting the city in a series of intimate vignettes, each reminding readers of why they should really take the time to walk along the Seine, sit on the steps of the Pantheon or simply drink coffee outside a patisserie. Equally, the author has written a romance that is truly worthy of a city famous for love. There is nothing sudden about Anna and St. Clair’s relationship, instead readers get to watch a true friendship develop – and this friendship is at the heart of Anna and The French Kiss‘s success. Yes, the story is hugely romantic but this romance becomes breathtakingly lovely when set against a background of true camaraderie and trust.
When I initially read about Anna and The French Kiss I dismissed it – to be honest, I didn’t want to read a book where cheating might be condoned but I’m glad that I decided to give this title a go. Anna and The French Kiss doesn’t deal with the issue too lightly, but nor does it need to as little untoward actually happens (something that successfully ratchets the romantic tension up to eleven). Rather than finding a story that made me uncomfortable, I found a romance that I was reluctant to step away from – I didn’t want this book to end. Take my advice, pick up a copy of this book and rent a copy of Paris J’Taime – then spend the next few days falling in love with Anna, Paris and the perfect St. Clair. Bliss.