Here’s what I love about Stephanie Perkins: her stories are romantic and realistic, adorable and heartbreaking. There is just the right amount of salt to balance the sweet — and though her characters do get a “happily ever after” (imagine that!), the road isn’t paved solely in diamonds. You have to stumble on a few ruts, too.
Isla and the Happily Ever After — the third in a trilogy of stories featuring independent but related characters — did not disappoint. Like Anna and Lola before her, Isla is a winning combination of strong and vulnerable. The middle of three sisters, our heroine struggles to find her place at her French boarding school — and, you know, the world at large — when Josh, a classmate on whom she’s nursed a serious crush for years, suddenly seems to notice her.
Really notice her.
Josh is a politician’s son — polished when necessary, dorky and artistic and brooding when the cameras are off. He devotes himself to art, working tirelessly on a graphic memoir panel by panel. Though they go to school together in Paris, Isla and Josh cross paths — and finally talk — during a serendipitous meeting on a rainy night in New York. When they reconnect again in France, everything changes.
I loved the sweet, heart-pounding development of their relationship: the little glances, the small smiles. Nerves, anticipation, bliss. It’s impossible to read Perkins’ latest and not remember the first time you fell in love — every element is there, right down to the sickening feeling that accompanies knowing you won’t see him or her for hours after you part. Days, even. The exquisite torture!
Though we know Isla and Josh are destined for each other (I mean, it’s right there in the title), their course is not smooth and untroubled. Isla’s loyalty to her best friend, Kurt, added nice contrast to the familiar “can girls and boys just be buddies?” trope. Their dynamic was unconventional — but I dug that. Beyond the romance at the heart of the story, Isla’s life is made colorful by the relationships she has with friends and family . . . and I felt her struggle to maintain a tight friendship with Kurt while falling in love, something to which many will relate.
While I struggled a bit to get into the story and felt the build-up dragged at points, I never considered giving up — and once I hit the last 100-ish pages, I flew like a jet to finish. In contrast to what she once believes, Isla is a dimensional character who feels like a friend . . . and Perkins’ tale of young love, hope and taking chances definitely resonated with me.
How did it stack up to Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door? Well, Anna remains my favorite heroine with the most pulse-racing story — but Isla would be a close second. Perkins’ leading ladies are vibrant, colorful and memorable . . . and I certainly won’t forget them. Longtime fans of the series will delight in cameos and a fulfilling ending to other characters’ arcs, too.
4 out of 5