Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins has been on my tbr list for a loooooong time. However, I just never found myself getting it to read. Until I happened upon the pretty 10th Anniversary Edition in my local Barnes and Noble.
It felt like fate was telling me to put this book on my summer reading list. So I did. There was a lot about this book I really loved–despite not being the intended audience.
I loved the glimpses into the life of an exPat in Paris. I found myself wanting to attend SOAP, School of America in Paris. I loved that Anna had a very real hesitancy to travel beyond the school and explore the city since she didn’t know any French. I loved that her new friends accepted her anxiety and her neatness and her other little tics. And I found myself wondering why these kids were like that? Was it because there were only 25 kids in a class or did Anna just happen to find the only four kids out of 100 who didn’t care about “fitting in.”
The teen drama was over the top. And despite finding myself rolling my eyes at the type of drama that consumes days and weeks of adolescents (and guidance counselors of adolescents), I also found myself compulsively reading the book. I hated the drama and yet, I kept reading it. So that made me wonder why?
Not having a clear answer in my head, I took to my trusty notebook to jot down my thoughts and try to learn what I think about this book. What I found was that it’s a typical YA romance. Boy meets girl, boy and girl are friends, boy and girl find they have feelings for each other, complications arise, there’s a huge blow up, and they find their way back to each other. End of story.
Except in this novel, Anna, our protagonist, is incredibly flawed. Since she narrates the story, we don’t always know how flawed she really is. Maybe that’s what kept me coming back. I found myself outraged over some of things that happened to her. Then as the novel moves closer and closer to climax and denouement, the reader starts to wonder what’s Anna’s role in all of these things that are happening to her. She has agency after all.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Bridgette’s side of things? But we can’t because Anna has ghosted her.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Mer’s side of things? But we don’t because Anna never asked–until it was too late.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Rashmi’s side of things? Oh, but we do. But only after four months of Anna judging her, so we’re sort of biased towards Rashmi. Of course it is Rashmi who helps Anna have the realization that does move the novel towards a satisfying and happy conclusion. And it’s in Anna’s realization that the reader is able to see just how flawed our protagonist really is. I was left with hope that Anna would begin to work on these flaws and continue to grow and change during her time in college.
And despite the fact that it is a romance, the author introduces a host of female friends who are nothing more than two-dimensional characters. This was something that bothered me about the book. Yes, she needs to hang out with St. Clair in order for the romance to blossom. However, it’s Meredith, who lives next door to Anna, who enters the scene right after Anna’s parents leave. Anna realizes that her parents have just left her. At school. In Paris. And she’s have a bit of an anxiety attack and meltdown. There’s a knock on the door, Mer sticks her head in and offers Anna some hot chocolate. Along with the hot chocolate is an invitation to sit with her and her friends at breakfast. And that’s pretty much Mer’s whole character. We meet her in the beginning of the novel, think she’s amazing because she welcomes and comforts the new kid, and never moves beyond the hot chocolate welcoming committee–despite all the time she hangs out with Anna.
When Anna first meets Rashmi, she sizes Rashmi up stating, “Rashmi has blue-framed glasses and thick back hair that hangs all the way down her back. She gives me only the barest of acknowledgements. That’s okay. No big deal” (Perkins 20). The reader only gets to know Rashmi from Anna’s description. We don’t know what the bare acknowledgement was. Is the girl awake? Does she have a mouth full of breakfast? Who knows? But Anna automatically decides Rash doesn’t like her. She states a bit later, “Rashmi looks at me for the first time, calculating whether or not I might fall in love with her own boyfriend” (Perkins 20). She makes Rash sound like a snob and insecure.
The reality is that Rashmi is neither. She’s got a lot on her plate. Stuff the reader doesn’t learn about for another 250 pages. Does Anna care? Sort of.
Then there’s her friend Bridgette. Anna left Bridge at home in Atlanta when she started SOAP. When Anna returns home over Christmas break, she finds out Bridgette is dating the boy that Anna likes. A boy who doesn’t like Anna back–at least not the way Anna likes him–and who she wasn’t in a relationship with and who isn’t going to wait around for her to come home. The only thing Bridgette does wrong is not tell Anna herself. I suspect Bridgette was probably going to tell Anna in person but doesn’t have a chance. And then Anna ghosts her.
And, yes, I get it, Anna not seeing her friends for what they are is one of her flaws. However, I also feel like that the author missed opportunities for strong female friendships that would have supported Anna. And would have made the book a bit less angsty. She laments over and over again how she has no one to talk to, but the author has put three girls–one her best friend–in the novel and then does nothing with that relationship. It would have been great to see Anna be able to gain some strength from these young women. But then again, I’m not the target demographic for the novel. And even with the angst, I did love it.
Maybe for the 10 year anniversary we have a SOAP reunion and spend time seeing how Anna, Rash, and Mer do support each other. Or maybe we just catch up with Anna and hope that she realizes the powerhood of being part of a sisterhood.