Don't Judge This Book By Its Cover. Or Title.
I've been a devoted reader of Forever Young Adult for years, and every time I saw them rave over Stephanie Perkins' novel Anna and the French Kiss I doubted their judgement. Sure, FYA had never steered me wrong before, but when I saw that cover and that title, I was sure they must have had a few too many champ cans. (You can see the original cover below. The cover was redesigned to be more cohesive with the other two books as a series, which helps A LOT, but the title is still pretty ugh.) When Perkins' second book, Lola and the Boy Next Door was released, and I again read all about how great Anna was, I decided to give it a read, and I fell head over heels in love with Anna, Étienne, and Stephanie Perkins herself.
This weekend I found myself raving to a friend about Perkins' sort-of-series (I'll explain that later), because I had just finished Isla and the Happily Ever After and I knew my fellow book-lovin' pal would be just as nuts over Anna, Lola, and Isla as I am. Then I remembered that I wanted to write more about books I've been reading, and, well, here we are. (Here's a fun bit of trivia: The Watch part of Wear, Watch, Want was initially going to be about what I was reading that week, but I can't resist alliteration, so it became Watch.) Instead of telling you about this trio of books, I'm going to focus on Anna, because following the advice of Maria von Trapp and the Mad Hatter, we should start at the beginning. (I do, however, recommend all three books.)
Anna and the French Kiss is the story of Anna Oliphant, a high schooler who is sent to boarding school in Paris for her senior year. It's not as glamorous as it may sound, though, because Anna didn't campaign to go off to Paris, she was sent against her will by her Nicholas Sparks caricature of a dad. I mean that last part literally: Anna's dad is a bestselling author who churns out books about true love torn apart by death, that are then turned into blockbuster movies, which are the source of Papa Oliphant's buckets of cash (and how he can afford to send his daughter to boarding school in Paris). Like I said, Anna isn't too keen on Paris, because she only has one year of high school left, and she'd prefer to spend it at home with her best friend and her crush, who works with her at a movie theater, a job Anna actually kind of likes because a) crush, and b) Anna's a total cinephile. But to Paris she is shipped.
Anna eventually learns to embrace Paris, though, in part because she discovers all the things she was missing from home: A good friend, movies, and an all-consuming crush. But there are some complications. Not with the movies, though. Anna realizes that Paris is as film crazy as she is, and there are plenty of theaters that show old movies, which is just something there isn't enough of in the States. No, it's that Anna's crush, the completely crush-able Étienne St. Clair, has a girlfriend, and her one good friend at SOAP (the name of the boarding school is School of the Americas in Paris), Meredith, has a years-long crush on St. Clair herself. Merde.
I can leave you hanging with a "Will Anna get her French kiss? You'll have to read and find out!" But we all know she does, so I'm not going to pretend you're stupid. BUT, I'm not going to tell you how exactly things play out. This isn't a cookie-cutter romance. Étienne St. Clair is like, 5'6", he has some issues, but not in that tired "ooooh let's reform the bad boy" kind of way, and he's just as attractive to Anna as a best friend as he is as a crush. Even though Anna and St. Clair are each other's best friend, there's still some fantastic romance too. The look on St. Clair's face when Anna comes back to Paris after break and calls him Étienne? I still think about it and swoon.
The three books in this trio aren't necessarily a series, but they are intertwined, so I'd recommend reading them in order. All are set in the same narrative universe: Anna takes place first, and Lola and Isla occur simultaneously. Lola is friends with Anna and Étienne, and then, in this third book, we get the payoff from the longest long game ever, as we get to focus on Isla, who was in Anna and the French Kiss for about a nanosecond (and her BF, Josh, was good friends with Étienne St. Clair). These are more than just cameos too, there are actual plot points relating to the previously-main-now-secondary characters that will only pay off if you actually know these characters. Here's my spoiler-free PSA: If you read Isla before reading Anna, the ending won't be nearly as emotionally satisfying.
Overall, I was so happy with the ending of this series, but so sad to see it end. Which is a hallmark of the best books, isn't it? I'm disappointed that I let my judgement of a cover/title keep me from Anna and Friends for so long, but now you can learn from my dumb mistake.
Featured image on main page is by deviantArt user leabharlann