Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

My Rating: <3 <3 <3

Romantic, funny and memorable, Anna and the French Kiss tells the story of a girl's first steps into the world. The friends she meets, the love she craves and the truths she learns along the way will intrigue and inspire those who might be going away from home for the first time, spark the imagination of those who've never done this, or rekindle fond memories for those who've gone before.


Anna's dad, a famous novelist, decides that she should study in Paris for her senior year of high school. No amount of begging or pleading will change his mind. Anna befriends Meredith, Josh, Rashmi and St. Clair and begins to explore Paris and discover who she is without quite so much parental supervision.

Along the way she will also fall in love with St. Clair, who happens to have a girlfriend named Ellie, test the bonds of friendship that she holds with her old best friend, Bridgette and discover the joys of being a would-be film critique living in the film appreciation capitol of the world.

For me this book was a little different then what I am use to. I usually read books where there is something major -- and usually life threatening -- trying to be achieved. In Anna and the French Kiss there seemed to be two major goals (1) obtaining independence and (2) obtaining St. Clair. I'm a romance lover, but I really must tell you ... Because of the way the romance's conflicts were handled I was honestly more interested in the independence plot then in the romance.

That's a serious problem because the independence issue is actually more of a multi-themed sub-plot that plays second fiddle to the romance within this book at every turn. Can romance stand on its own? Absolutely. Does it do that well here? No. (See "Romance")

The Characters:

This is the next big issue for me. I started out liking Anna and St. Clair, but as the book went on I found myself constantly wanting to shake them. By the end of the book it seems that her whole existence revolves around him -- what happened to the girl who was so deeply, passionately interested in film critique? We know that he draws and loves history, but aside from the film thing, what makes her tick? She just didn't have enough depth for my liking.

And while I loved the fact that St. Clair had flaws (or at least, characteristics uncommon to the standard romance hero -- he's short and he's afraid of heights, for instance)... He is a coward. He stays with his girlfriend despite the fact that he no longer cares about her. He sleeps in Anna's bed, while he's still with his girlfriend, at Thanksgiving. He kisses Anna while he's still with his girlfriend near the end of the novel. (I don't care that he breaks up with her shortly after. That's still cowardly behavior.)

I also see that Perkins used a lot of painfully obvious mirroring characters: Bridgette / Meredith and Anna's father / St. Clair's father are the first examples that come to my mind. The situation with how Anna feels about her dad is never fully developed, clearly expressed or in any way resolved, which is another problem that really irked me.

The Romance: 

If this is actually a realistic portrayal of teenage romance, then I have only one thing to say: Thank God I didn't date in high school!

Perkins got some things right: The longing. The rollercoaster ride of hope and despair. The torture of being friends with a guy that you like. The jealousy that can consume you when the person your 'friend' is dating does not measure up to how you think you would behave. The slight touches and longing glances that might or might not be real. The intensity of every little thing, innocent or not.

But I could not respect Anna for pining over a guy for all of that time when she knew he was taken.

And I could not respect St. Clair, who admits at the end of the book that he knew he liked Anna the first day, for stringing along his current girlfriend for a good 7 - 9 months. The fact that Ellie ditched Rashmi sucks. But in no way does this justify or excuse the way that St. Clair behaves in any way, shape or form.

I'll give Perkins this: The HEA (happily ever after) she gave them was sweet and had me going "Aww..." despite any prior annoyance. But the bottom line is this: St. Clair and Anna go well together, yet I did not feel myself wishing I could be with St. Clair. If Romance is the central plotline of this novel, then that is what I should feel by the end. If I'd been Anna I would have been too disgusted with him over some of the things he did and said for anything to happen. (Mind you, in the book she did go along with them. They were partners in crime.)

Cheating -- whether its sharing a bed, kissing or stringing someone along -- is not romantic.

Why is it that we see him continually thinking how he is so much like his mother? (Which, on its own is fine...) Yet despite the evidence clearly presented within his actions during the book, we never see him wondering if his behavior in this whole him / Anna / Ellie love triangle is just a little closer to something his father might have done at his own age. (Going by the philosophy that things tend to be done on a smaller scale and snowball...) Lastly, even when he and Anna are confessing their feelings and getting together, I saw no thought or mention that any of this might have been even the slightest bit wrong.

There is absolutely nothing that leads me to believe that Anna won't be next on the chopping block here. I realize that since this is (to my knowledge) a standalone romance with an HEA that I'm not suppose to be thinking forward. I also realize that there are other reasons that any couple in any romance could be threatened with being dumped beyond the covers of the book. My problem here is that there actually seems to be strong evidence to back this up.

In General: 

The pacing was solid. The way that Perkins described Paris was great. The dialog was sharp, funny and natural. While I do not agree with some of her decisions, I liked Anna as a narrator and found her voice to be fresh and distinct. I just wish that the plot had hinged on something more then a guy who didn't have the guts to break up with his girlfriend. I was okay with it at first, but once they slept together at Thanksgiving (I do realize they did not have sex, just to clarify) it all went downhill. And for me, personally, it snowballed completely when she came back from Christmas, saw him and was all "I love him!". I wanted to hit her over the head with my copy of the book.

I gave this three stars. It lost one star because the entire plot hinged on the hero's inability to break up with his girlfriend. It lost another because two people who were (technically) cheating got together with no form of admittance, redemption or even remote consideration of their behavior and how it effected others. (Don't even get me started on the Anna / Bridgette / Meredith subplot...)

But this is strictly my opinion. "Good" is not a terrible review. If I really disliked the book, I wouldn't have finished it. If you're interested in this book, go for it. There are a lot of people who like it far more then I did. 

I would have rated it higher had I been able to respect the hero and heroine. But the plot hinged on them not being brave enough to listen to their own feelings. And the actions they took to fulfill their plot eventually made me lose most or all respect for them.


  1. Great review. You make some excellent points. I really liked this book, but I agree that St. Clair could have handled things better. And really, what's to stop him from repeating this whole incident later on with another girl?

  2. Exactly my point -- I just didn't have the heart to say it. This book would have gotten at least four hearts from me otherwise.


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