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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Contemporary Realistic Fiction: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins




















Perkins, Stephanie. (2010). Anna and the French Kiss. New York, NY: Dutton Books.     

Plot Summary: Forced to spend her senior year in Paris, France at an American boarding school, Anna Oliphant is scared to even leave her own dorm room.  But, with the help of her classmates Meredith, Rashmi, Josh, and St. Clair the “City of Light” begins to grow on her.  And so does her new beautiful and charming friend Etienne St. Clair.  The only problem is he has a serious girlfriend and Anna has her own new crush on a boy back home in Atlanta. Anna’s last year in high school just got a little more complicated. 

Critical Analysis:
A review from Shelle Rosenfeld from Booklist described the novel as having “vivid descriptions of Parisian culture and places, and a cast of diverse, multifaceted characters, including adults, this lively title incorporates plenty of issues that will resonate with teens, from mean girls to the quest for confidence and the complexities of relationships in all their forms” (2010, Children’s Comprehensive Database).  A Kirkusreview stated that “Perkins's debut surpasses the usual chick-lit fare with smart dialogue, fresh characters and plenty of tingly interactions, all set amid pastries, parks and walks along the Seine in arguably the most romantic city in the world” (2010, Children’s Comprehensive Database).  In Anna and the French Kiss, Perkins delivers a romantic teen novel that brings to life the Parisian culture, charming characters, and effortless humor. High school senior Anna Oliphant is forced by her parents to live in Paris, France at an American boarding school.  Although left on her own, Anna is instantly welcomed by her dorm neighbor Meredith and introduces her to her own circle of friends Rashmi, Josh, and Étienne St. Clair.  Insecure, yet determined to survive Paris, Anna comes to love the Parisian culture and her new friends, especially the charming and handsome St. Clair. Unfortunately for Anna, St. Clair has a serious girlfriend named Elle who just graduated and Anna has her own crush named Toph back home in Atlanta.  Anna’s stay in Paris is a little less stressful because her dream of becoming a movie critic is helped by the ample amounts of cinemas all over Paris, especially down the street from her own dorm room. Although St. Clair has a girlfriend, Anna finds herself spending more and more time with him and he doesn’t seem to mind at all.  This leads to a lot of misunderstandings and confusion on Anna’s part because her feelings for him are growing and she thinks he may be feeling the same way.   However, St. Clair has not broken up with his girlfriend even though he and Anna have become close and this leaves Anna hurt and confused.  To feel better, she ends up dating another student named Dave but that doesn’t end well and she focuses her thoughts on Toph back in Atlanta.  Everything changes when Anna goes home for Christmas break and finds out that Toph is now dating her best friend Bridge.  Devastated, Anna keeps in communication with St. Clair who has become her best friend and is trying to keep his spirits up since learning that his mother has cancer. Readers will fall in love with Anna and St. Clair and root for their match-up throughout the story.

The setting of the story is in the heart of beautiful Paris, France.  Perkins takes the reader to many different historical sites such as the Eiffel tower, Notre-Dame, and even the pantheon, where it’s described as an “unimaginable number of domes and columns and arches. Everything is huge and round. Enormous frescoes of saints, warriors, and angels are painted across the walls” (p. 168).  Not only are you whisked away to this beautiful “city of light,” but you are also introduced to many of its wonderful food.  On one occasion, Anna and Meredith stop at a cake shop where the front case “shimmers with neat rows of square-shaped tarte citrons, spongy cakes swelling with molten chocolate, caramel éclairs like ballet slippers, and fruity cakes with wild strawberries dusted in powdery sugar” (p.158).  American readers who are unfamiliar with Paris, will be educated with more of its unique differences, such as calling soccer “football” and that “Restaurant dinners are measured in hours, not minutes” (p.157) – like American fast-food restaurant chains.  Readers will get an insight to Paris living through the eyes of Anna and perhaps appreciate the Parisian culture along the way.

The character development of the story is appealing and authentic to modern teen romance.  Anna is insecure, yet charming and funny and will win the readers vote for a happy ending.  She is not only likable; she is also relatable and many teen readers will identify with the inner thoughts of Anna as she interacts with St. Clair.   In one scene, Anna is at the cinema with her friends when, “St. Clair coughs and shifts again.  His leg brushes against mine.  It stays there. I’m paralyzed. I should move it; it feels too unnatural. How can he not notice his leg is touching my leg?  There. He glanced at me. I know he did” (p.106).  Étienne St. Clair, most often referred to as just “St. Clair,” is the handsome boy-next-door who was born in San Francisco but raised in London, which is where he developed his charming English accent.  Although he has a long-time girlfriend named Elle, St. Clair is struggling to figure out his own feeling towards his new friend Anna.  St. Clair’s lack of initiative to break up with Elle leaves Anna confused and hurt, but she is determined to at least remain friends with a boy she has come to love.  The friendship and romance between Elle and St. Clair is heartfelt, genuine, and leaves the reader thoroughly content when they come together in the end.  The romance between Anna and St. Clair is natural and completely believable as it develops slowly throughout the course of the book.  Meredith, Rashmi, and Josh are side characters that add dimension to the story by allowing the reader to understand the sometimes confusing actions of St. Clair since the story is only told through Anna’s point of view. For example, after a night out drinking Anna finally thinks St. Clair is ready to move on from Elle because she knows how unhappy he is. However, it doesn’t happen and it’s up to Rashmi to fill her in later about what Josh told her regarding St. Clair’s state of mind.  For example, Rashmi tells Anna, “Josh says with all this stuff with his mom, he’s (St. Clair) been too freaked out to change anything else in his life” (p. 281).  

Anna and the French Kiss will appeal to readers of chic-lit who love a genuine teen romance.  It’s filled with delicious food, beautiful scenery, and laugh-out loud humor.  This book is recommended for young adults and above.




References

Kirkus Reviews. (2010, Nov. 1). Since her father’s Nicholas Sparks-like novels have been turned into blockbuster movies [Review of the book Anna and the French Kiss, written by Stephanie Perkins]. Kirkus, Vol. 78: No. 21. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780525423270

Rosenfeld, Shelle. (2010, Nov.15). Anna is not happy about spending senior year at a Paris boarding school [Review of the book Anna and the French Kiss, written by Stephanie Perkins]. Booklist, Vol. 7: No. 6. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=1&isbn=9780525423270
 

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