Review: “Isla and the Happily Ever After” (AATFK #3) by Stephanie Perkins

The reason I’m writing this post literally minutes after my post on Lola and the Boy Next Door is because I don’t want to delay my thoughts on this adorable book for another 518 days like I did with the last one. Isla and the Happily Ever After is the end of Stephanie Perkins wildly successful YA romance trilogy, and quite possibly my favourite of the lot.

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla Martin has been in love with Joshua Wasserstein since she first saw him in ninth grade, but between Isla’s shyness and Josh’s misunderstanding of her relationship with her best friend Kurt, the two never managed to get on the same page. Suddenly it’s senior year, and these bicultural New Yorker/Parisians have started to figure things out, maybe a bit too late.

Isla is portrayed as a hot nerd, an exceptionally bright student with an autistic best friend, a voracious reader of adventure books and a teenager with no clue about what to pursue as a career. In contrast, Josh is supposed to be a tortured artist-cum-bad boy, at least as ‘tortured’ and as ‘bad’ as heroes can be in a Stephanie Perkins novel. He has a tattoo. He skips class by making up Jewish holidays. And the only reason he doesn’t get the highest grades in his class is because he doesn’t care. He is, however, an exceptional graphic artist and some of my favourite (and hottest) scenes from the book involve Josh and his art.

Josh and Isla

When they finally admit their attraction and begin to fall in love, Isla finds herself doing things that are out of character. She is studying less, spending less time with Kurt, and making choices that she’s not sure her parents would approve of. When she opts to sneak away from Paris with Josh for the weekend, she’s scandalized by doing something illicit, yet so delighted to have Josh all to herself. Of course, they get caught, and the consequences are dire.

But unlike Anna and Lola, which were all about the chracters overcoming their issues and finding each other, Isla tackles the question of what happens after you do get together. Can you live happily ever after if you think you don’t deserve it? It is the story of two teenagers who fall in love really hard and fast and then have to deal with the repercussions of “meant to be.”

This book is ridiculously sweet. It captures all of the things about teen love that I remember fondly: loving from afar, the intensity of teenage love affairs, the passion of the anger, the drama. Isla is a wonderfully complex character, with smarts and insecurities and charm. Josh is a dreamboat of a boy, full of rebellion and art and moods. They have wonderful chemistry and their relationship doesn’t shoot off like a gun, it’s a charming slow build that captures all of the things I remember with affection about being a teenager.

Two other reasons for Isla being my favourite book was because all the characters from Anna and Lola came together in the end and had a truly heartwarming scene. Possibly my favourite in the whole series. Also, it was really refreshing to see Josh and Isla’s relationship develop outside their boarding school, in Manhattan and Barcelona. Especially Barcelona.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is enjoyable because, like the previous two books, you can understand why they want to be together. It doesn’t simply come out of nowhere, and so I love that Stephanie Perkins has written about three completely different kinds of relationships, each with their own highs and lows. It was the perfect end for an amazingly sweet trilogy.

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Review: “Lola and the Boy Next Door” (AATFK #2) by Stephanie Perkins

As promised, I started reading Lola and the Boy Next Door as soon as I finished Anna and the French Kiss, 518 DAYS AGO. And now, fresh off my achievement of reading for all 24 hours in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, I have decided to post my review of a book I read a year and a half ago. Sorry.

Lola and the Boy Next Door cover

Dolores Nolan (aka Lola) is a budding fashionista with a seemingly perfect life. Hot slightly-older rocker boyfriend. Loving gay dads. Witty and ‘adorkable’ best friend. And she has a resolution to not wear the same get-up twice in a year. I thought she was what Lily from Modern Family would look like when she grows up.

Lily Modern Family

Then her world turns upside down when her childhood friends-turned-enemies the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, come back to live next door. Here, I am going to digress and just take a moment to wonder why anyone who is not a Hollywood celebrity name their son Cricket. Why couldn’t the poor guy be called Caleb/Cameron/Cary/Carter/anything even remotely name-like?! Some may find it endearing but I, for one, couldn’t find being named after a sport/insect adorable in any way.

Cricket Bell

Anyway, I knew that Lola and the Boy Next Door was a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss – not a sequel – but I wasn’t prepared for such a different voice. Yes, Lola is a new character, but for some reason, I just expected to bond with her on page one the way I had with Anna. I loved her flamboyancy and self-expression. She just came off as really immature at times, from her justifications for her boyfriend Max’s rude attitude to her destructive tantrums she had when she was upset. I felt that even by the end of the novel she had yet to show substantial growth, as she put a lot of stock in what others thought of her habit of making and wearing costumes  So maybe the bond was not formed, but I did end up enjoying Lola and her story.

Cricket Bell adds a nice delicious layer to Lola’s heart struggles. He’s a hard one to resist. I liked that he was as endearing as St. Clair, but he didn’t seem like a recycled version of the boy who had already stolen my heart. Cricket is sweeter and shyer than St. Clair. He doesn’t have that strong charisma and sense of self. In many ways, he is a mirror of Lola. Neither of these characters sees themselves clearly in the beginning. Cricket is the handsome nerd who gravitates toward the girl he has known his whole life who is full of sparkles and light. I loved that he knew what he wanted and never wavered – even when Lola was being difficult. What didn’t work for me was how, despite her exceptional skill at sketching likable hot boys, Perkins made Cricket sound like such a doormat. Or maybe I just need to stop reading romance written for gushy teenagers.

I was also originally pleased to see Anna and Étienne in the story. I had assumed that they appeared in the book much later—towards the end—rather than showing up throughout the story. But it didn’t really feel like they were the same characters. I had thought previously that they were both interesting, independent characters yet they sort of blurred into one. However, this may be because we’re seeing them through Lola’s perspective and she could be focusing on that fact that they’re clearly a very happy couple. I also just found out that Stephanie Perkins wrote Lola first, so that also could be why.

Aside from the romance, Lola and the Boy Next Door addresses issues surrounding families and friendship and handles it in such a way that makes the story incredibly human and relatable. I find it really difficult to criticize a book like this, because it’s exactly what I expected it to be. Adorable, fun and fast-paced. It was predictable, but I’ll be honest, if it had ended in a way that wasn’t described in the title, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have been a happy camper.

So bottom line, this book is either for you or it’s not, depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s not your kind of thing, then skip it, but if it is, you’ll be instantly enthralled in Lola’s pie baking, glasses breaking, Marie Antoinette gown crafting, moon chatting and tea reading adventures. I just liked it for the cute nerd.

Review: “Anna and the French Kiss” (AATFK #1) by Stephanie Perkins

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).

Anna and the French Kiss cover

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?“).

The gang from Anna and the French Kiss

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.

Home a Person not a Place

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.

Etienne

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.

Rashmi Quote

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.

Etienne's I love you

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.

Anna Wish

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.