The Premise: Anna doesn’t want to go to France for her senior year, but her parents don’t give her a choice. She’s enrolled in a boarding school: The School of America in Paris, and it’s good-bye to her best friend Bridgette and good-bye to Toph, the guy she may have had something with. Instead, Anna is the new girl in a place where all the other students seem so much cooler and more Parisian than her. Then Anna meets Étienne St. Claire, the cute boy with a French name and an English accent — the boy that everyone likes, but who has a girlfriend. Anna and Étienne become good friends, but maybe they could be more, if both of them didn’t appear to be already involved.
My Thoughts: This book made me feel very nostalgic for my youth. Anna and the French Kiss is very much about those first experiences – living in a new place, meeting interesting new people, seeing the world, all for the first time. When you’re seventeen and thrust into the world by yourself, everything is new and terrifying and glorious. I was actually amused that Anna cried as soon as she was alone in her new room in the dorms. Why? Because that is a real and believable reaction and I could relate to it.
At first, Anna is just awkward and self-conscious. Luckily, her next door neighbor, Meredith, takes Anna under her wing and introduces Anna to Josh, Rashmi, and St. Claire. Anna starts off as total newbie about Paris (I was cringing a bit), but she eventually relaxes and settles into the group and is is eating French food, walking to Paris landmarks and enjoying the Paris cinema scene. Despite Anna’s initial hang-ups about being an American and what Parisians must think of her, she’s a cool girl in her own right. She has a quick sense of humor and an interest in film, and while she thinks St. Claire is really hot, she always maintains her dignity around him. I loved that she is a girl who doesn’t have her brains turn to mush just because the guy she likes is looking at her.
The kids at SOAP that Anna falls in with are a self-assured, independent crowd. Their days consist of easy friendships, hanging out in Paris and their dorms, relaxed in each other’s company. Before long, she and Étienne are close friends, but their relationship is fraught with their unvoiced attraction. Étienne is really good looking with the charm (and accent) to match. Even if he’s not very tall, there are several girls interested in him, including Meredith. Anna isn’t about to go after a boy her friend likes, besides, Étienne has a girlfriend, and Anna likes a boy back home named Toph.
In awkward denial-slash-avoidance, Anna and Étienne maintain that they are just friends, even though they share moments filled with unvoiced feelings. Reading the story from Anna’s point of view made everything so much more immediate. You could cut the tension with a knife. This is where the story can be frustrating. When I was reading this, I felt exasperated by the way both Anna and Étienne were acting, but at the same time, I couldn’t fault either of them for it (OK, I wanted to fault Étienne, but I couldn’t really do it). There were very good reasons on both sides not to be the first one to admit anything or change anything. Plus they are young, and they have other people to consider. This is a character driven story, and Anna relationships with her old and new friends and her issues with her Nicholas-Sparks-alike father, and Étienne’s own issues with his friends and parents, are all part of the big picture. Luckily, there’s a whole school year to figure things out.
Overall: Anna and the French Kiss is one of those books that stands apart from the pack. I think it’s because it captures this little phase of life (when you’re out of the house, but not quite on your own), in a way that feels so real and relatable. Anna’s life made me nostalgic for my college days, the Parisian backdrop made me want to fly off somewhere, and the romance made me happy that I’m past the limbo of “I wonder if he likes me”. I like you for these things, dear book.
One More Page – 5 stars (out of 5)
Giraffe Days – 5 giraffes (out of 5)
My Favourite Books – positive
Charlotte’s Library – “good reading, but it wasn’t a perfect book”
In which a girl reads – 8.25/10 (and with some interesting observations on Étienne)
The Book Pushers – A+
Chachic’s Book Nook – “deserves all the hype that it’s been getting in the blogosphere”
Life After Jane – positive
The Book Harbinger – “An incredibly sweet story”
Book Fare Delights – 5 strawberries (out of 5)
intoyourlungs – “seriously one of the best novels I’ve read this year”
christina_reads – positive
Guy Gone Geek – 4 stars (out f 6)