Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins [website] [twitter] [facebook]
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Dutton Books
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed from the lovely YALibrarianTales
Parental Advisory: drugs, alcohol, innuendo
Teachable Moments: friendship, navigating divorce, navigating romantic relationships, parental illness

“I love sitting beside him in physics.  Brushing against him during labs.  His messy handwriting on our worksheet.  I love handing him his backpack when class is over, because then my fingers smell like him for the next ten minutes.  And when Amanda says something lame, and he seeks me out to exchange an eye roll — I love that, too.  I love his boyish laugh and his wrinkled shirts and his ridiculous knitted hat.  I love his large brown eyes, and the way he bites his nail, and I love his hair so much I could die.

There’s only on thing I don’t love about him.  Her.”

Summary (from the publisher):
Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more.  So she’s less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Etienne St. Clair.  Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all….including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Lights, wishes have a way of coming true.  Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

Anna and the French Kiss is a fantastic romantic entanglement with the kind of push and pull that will have readers sitting on the edge of their seats in great anticipation.  A story built on the foundation of a fabulous cast of characters, it is a compelling story of friendship and love.

Angst-ridden at times, it was neither too schmoopy nor too rigid, which made me one happy girl. Quite the delicious combination of emotion and tension the bumps teens often encounter as they navigate their relationships are put on full display in a deftly plotted and characterized story.  I’ll add, major props go out to Perkins for making this story realistic and relatable.  It was not filled with copious amounts of over-sexed teens looking to get into each other’s pants.  There weren’t a bunch of over-privileged snotty aristobrats positioning for power either it was just a great old fashioned love story with depth of character and interesting plots.

While romance is the name of this game one of the most compelling elements of the story is the vehicle by which Anna and St. Clair get there.  The focus on the varying forms of friendship and the scenarios that test the various bonds each maintain strengthens the overall progression of their love story.  Of course, the most important being Anna and St. Clair’s relationship building from platonic to more.  But, don’t stop the presses yet because there is just so much more.  Through this progression there is much interaction with their other friends, potential lovers and current significant others.

This is where the angsty parts come in and oh boy do I love me some angst!  BUT only when it’s well done. Have I mentioned that it’s well done here?  Because, Perkins builds an excellent wealth of tension both emotional and physical.  Yea, totally rockin’ my socks off. Like making my stomach drop and getting me all jittery.  It wasn’t the least bit contrived, overwrought, or unnecessary though it was just fabulousness.

Another part of what drives the awesomeness is the extraordinary cast of characters.  Anna and St. Clair are surrounded by a diverse group of friends and family.  I got the best chuckle out of the Nicholas Sparks knock off that is Anna’s father.  He’s every cliched — filled to the brim with fake tanning product and cable-knit sweaters. It was tremendously enjoyable.  However, while Anna’s father was annoying to her for some relatively entertaining and superficial reasons there was also depth to their relationship.  Issues of abandonment were prevalent.  Having said that, I’ll add that no one’s daddy issues were more complex (and heartbreaking) than St. Clair’s.  His father was a bastard with a capital B!  Domineering to the point of emotional abuse it was hard to watch this poor sweet boy take the brunt of that negativity.  Thankfully, their mutual father issues provided another reason for Anna and St. Clair to bond.

Also amongst the cast were the typical boarding school fare, the mean girl and the trouble-maker boy who wants what his arch-enemy (in this case St. Clair) has.  There is also the close circle of friends that surrounded St. Clair and welcomed Anna with open arms.  From the day of the new girls arrival Meredith took Anna under her wing and showed her the ropes.  Introducing her to Josh, Rashmi and ultimately St. Clair Meredith became her best girlfriend in Paris.  Of course, Anna left her US-based best girlfriend Bridgette at home to take care of the cinema worker crush she left behind.  It’s in the latter relationship that a bit of that angst I love comes into play.  Oh, and there’s a bit at play as a result of St. Clair’s girlfriend Ellie’s presence as well.  Yup, loads of great characters instigating lots of great story.

Finally, it’s from the story’s subtle nuances that I drew the most connection to the characters.  Anna’s love of the cinema, St. Clair’s dedication to his mother, and the changes both undergo as a result of knowing each other all bound me to this endearing story.  I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Paris for the first time through Anna’s eyes.  I strongly encourage you enjoy it too by adding Anna and the French kiss to your must read list.