So last night I got done making two projects on the same topic where I basically said that a law was progressive because the legislators decided to replace the word ‘workmen’ with ’employees’ 86 years after it was enacted. After faffing for some 10,000-odd words, I was tired as hell and decided to reward myself with something fun, foolish and light-hearted. I picked up Anna and the French Kiss, the first book in a trilogy by Stephanie Perkins. (Also because after feeling outraged on behalf of abused workers and the other book I’m reading being a tome on the history of Jerusalem, my soul had started reeking of pretentiousness :P).
The book starts with Anna Oliphant (aka Banana Elephant), a girl from Atlanta, being sent to Paris by her wildly successful author father, whose writings are a mixture of Nicholas Sparks and John Green. Or as I like to think of him, Chetan Bhagat, if he did the world a favour and killed himself at the end of one of his god-awful books. Anna is heartbroken as she has left behind a loving mother, a cute baby brother, her OED-(Oxford English Dictionary, plebes)quoting, badass drummer best friend and the possibility of a romance with a cinema co-worker. Toph.
Who sends their kids to boarding school? It’s so Hogwarts Only mine doesn’t have cute boy wizards or magic candy or flying lessons.
As she sobs her heart out into her pillow, she gets invited by Meredith, the girl-next-door, for a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and they instantly become such good friends that she is now invited to sit at their lunch table with cool, boyish artist Josh, sarcastic yet lovable Rashmi (aka Rash, ouch) and our hero Etienne St Clair (As Chandler would say, “Could be BE more French?“).
There’s an instant connection between Anna and St Clair. He is her physics lab partner. He takes her to see all the cool sights in Paris. He has an English accent and says “Fo’shiz”. He is basically your perfect high-school hero. But Anna still feels tied back to Toph. Even if she doesn’t like him that much. St Clair has a hot, older girlfriend, even though their relationship doesn’t seem to be going places.
Anna and the French Kiss checks all the boxes for what should be a fun, contemporary romance. It has the spark between two people, a slowly built rich relationship, strong secondary characters, witty banter and a subtext of important issues.
One of the best things about the story is Anna. She wants to be the country’s premiere film critic when she grows up. She doesn’t understand a word of French (“Here is everything I know about France: Madeleine and Amelie and Moulin Rouge”). She doesn’t have anything special which makes her stand out. But her voice in the writing is just so humorous and delightful that you can’t help but love her.
St Clair is an equally dreamy and complex hero. He is 3 inches shorter than Anna but his personality and his “I-pretend-I-don’t-care-but-I-really-do” attitude makes that insignificant. He is witty and eloquent and still has his own set of problems like every other teenager. His interactions with Anna and his efforts to be moral despite his growing feelings for her makes for excellent tension throughout the story.
What Perkins really nails in her debut novel, unlike countless other YA romances (yes, you, Twilight) is how the characters don’t straight away fall in love blindly. While both Anna and St Clair have a crush on the other, they start off as friends. Their relationship is built throughout the story and this makes for a very nice ending when the romantic tension is finally resolved.
Another major plus for this book is how the author wasn’t afraid to show the not-so-nice side of her characters too. Anna has a strained relationship with her douchebag of a father, she isn’t the first to make up in a fight with her best friend and she likes two guys at the same time. St Clair has gigantic daddy issues and acts like a complete jerk when dealing with his problems. Hidden among the snappy one-liners and teenage angst are moments of subtle clarity which show how the characters evolve into better people. At the end, you can see how Etienne isn’t so bitter anymore and Anna is a lot more adventurous.
This was supposed to be a short and sweet post. But as I wrote, I realised how many things there are to appreciate in this book. The humour. The numerous references to old films and French landmarks. Anna and the French Kiss is the textbook definition of a contemporary romantic dramedy. It’s one book I would recommend to everyone who loves a sweet (but not cavity-inducing) romance.
Needless to say, I have already started reading Lola and the Boy Next Door. You can find my very late review of it here.