Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins (Penguin)
This one is a love story: a kind of soppy teen romance, with a little edge of snark and genuine, occasionally laugh-out-loud, humour that saves it from being too cheesy.
Anna has been plonked in an American boarding school in Paris, France for her senior year (quite academically irresponsible of her father, I think ) and because she doesn’t speak French, has never been overseas before and is away from her mother and little brother for the first time, she’s understandably shitting herself.
But never fear! A smart and quirky bunch of friends take her under their wings immediately and within hours she is thrust into the company of the gorgeous (we’re told over and over again), charming – although short – Etienne St Clair. Anna and St Clair gel immediately, but his longtime girlfriend Ellie (it’s ok, we’re told early on she’s kind of plain) stands in the way of anything happening between the two. Maybe.
Anna is funny and her awkwardness at being in this new place, unable to understand or even communicate with most people she meets, comes across very well. She has a great sense of playfulness (loved the Nutella moustache) and while her misreading of looks and situations was at times frustrating, it was also mostly believable and moved the plot forwards. The dialogue is great and Anna’s thoughts and her overanalysing of situations (within the scene, between dialogue) was hilarious, very real and a great strength of this novel. Her interest in films is great and her desire to be a film critic is a nice kooky touch - I hope she saw some French films in there and not just American ones.
Etienne St Clair is allegedly a French-American boy who grew up in London and all the girls swoon over his ‘British’ accent and he’s all proper and posh but on occasions it comes across as though he speaks (me mum, different die-rections) like he’s from Liverpool, or competing in a talk-like-Jim-Sturgess-in-Across-the-Universe contest. Inconsistent! And one other thing: British? It’s not an accent.
St Clair's interest in history and facts is great and interesting and the banter between the two is gorgeous. I would have liked more made of his relationship with his parents because as it is I don’t quite buy it, the father needed to be developed much more. I was also a little miffed that St Clair fought some of Anna's battles for her, when she did prove capable of doing it for herself at other times.
The book gives a very cute view of Paris, even though it doesn’t extend far past the cliché. Notre Dame, Père Lachaise, Shakespeare and Co. etc – it’s all in every guidebook. But it’s still lovely to watch Anna adapt to life in a foreign country and her character develop as her confidence grows. Her trip back to America and return to France are particularly interesting, in terms of Anna's broadening world view and also highlighting how she has changed as a result of living abroad.
I admit that I got my cynic on before reading this because it seems like everyone on the interwebs lovelovedloved it, but in spite of my dislike for Sofia Coppola and the fact that I feel like I'm surely the only foreigner that Paris likes - it was a great read. Ultimately this one is a lovely, sweet, romantic summer read (with a terrible, terrible cover) and should inspire everyone to travel to Paris.