Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss walloped me on an emotional level. Reading it was like being thrown head-first into every crush I’ve ever had (and one in particular). Stephanie Perkins really tapped into something with the romance between Etienne and Anna. The dawning realization, the pining, the cycles of up and down so fast that they make you sick…It’s such a powerful, painful feeling! Six years after my own high school roller coaster, the primal dizziness came rushing back to me intact. I’ve long since made peace with my failed Etienne, but the feeling never goes away completely. At least Perkins erred on the side of kissing!

As a narrator, Anna’s fierce and funny, a winning poisson out of water. She’s easy to root for as she’s finding herself in a new place (um, Paris!) and figuring out a new group of people. I cheered when she socked the bitchy girl in the face, and my heart dropped when she stormed sobbing from a club. Her mix of bold and vulnerable was authentically teenaged.

Though Anna spends her senior year in high school abroad, the feeling of displacement was immediately recognizable to me as the college experience—the first time living independently, that state of being unsettled away from home and being unable to truly come home again. Anna also delves into the full spectrum of female friendship, showing off its starts, squalls, dissolutions, and mends. Its ferocious strength is visible not only with Anna and her best friend Bridgette but also with the girls Anna befriends in Paris.

While I really liked the peripheral people, I fell hard for the two lovers, who were both awkward and sweet with each other. I was attracted to how Perkins raised the question of perception and perspective. Depending on how you look at the story, each character is equal parts hero and villain, wronged and blameless. It was plain to see how people who try so hard to do the right thing often end up hurting each other. So, though I loved touring Paris, I enjoyed exploring the characters’ emotional landscapes more.

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