Book chat: ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and HappilyHere’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

Pub: August 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library


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Book review: ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ by Stephanie Perkins

In her hometown of San Francisco, 17-year-old Delores “Lola” Nolan is used to standing out — and she prefers it that way. Between her multicolored wigs, outlandish dress and brilliant makeup, Lola attracts attention everywhere she goes. One such admirer is Max, her 22-year-old boyfriend . . . and Lola’s parents are none too happy about it.

But in the cocoon of her comfortable relationship with Max, Lola tries to forget about the first boy who stole her heart: Cricket Bell, her adorable and quirky former next-door neighbor. As Cricket’s twin sister enjoyed stardom as a rising talent in the figure skating world, the Bell family relocated years before . . . much to Lola’s relief. After their friendship soured, being around Cricket — her dear friend; maybe her first love — was torture.

But as soon as Lola gets Cricket off her mind, a moving truck reappears at the Victorian next door. Throw in a well-meaning best friend, over-the-top birth mother and a host of other difficulties and Lola’s life is quickly becoming chaos.

Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door, her sophomore novel and companion to the phenomenal Anna and the French Kiss, was a readable if ultimately flat story. After falling head over heels for Etienne St. Clair in Anna, I was fully prepared to go ga-ga over Cricket — and, you know, I did.

But who I didn’t — and couldn’t — fall for? Lola.

I’m not going to make this a “OMG the first book was so good and this one is just blah” sort of review, but that’s essentially how I feel. Though Lola certainly goes through a transformation from beginning to end, I found her to be a pretty ridiculous, self-centered narrator. I guess that’s how we’re supposed to feel, really, but it just didn’t endear her to me. The costumes and ridiculous makeup and seriously gross, sexual relationship with 22-year-old Max bothered me to the core. Though all the action happens off page, I felt completely skeeved out by the idea that a twenty-something rocker would seduce a teen girl. Creepy, weird and wrong.

And okay. Lola is a teen trying to find her way in the world, sure, and she’s certainly been dealt an unusual hand in life. Her birth mother is a recovering addict who floats in and out of her world — the one she shares with Andy and Nathan, her fathers. Norah’s abrupt reappearance in Lola’s life sends our narrator for a tailspin, and I don’t fault her for that. But her reactions to everything are just so exhausting and dramatic. Everything reduces her to tears or sends her into epic rage fits or has half the neighborhood peeking at her in befuddlement.

It’s just the hormones and teendom, I know, but it was . . . too much.

I loved Cricket but found it slightly unbelievable that he would devote so much time obsessing over . . . Lola. Opposites attract and all that, but he seems so adorably nerdy and sweet that Lola’s wild streak didn’t quite mesh for me. I was surprised to see so many appearances by St. Clair and Anna in this one, too, but every scene involves them talking about how in looooove they are and how “when you know, you know,” etc., and so on, and so forth. As Lola tries to figure out whether her heart lies with Max or the boy next door (and slight spoiler: honestly, do you really not know who she’ll pick?), she looks to Anna and St. Clair’s seemingly perfect relationship as a barometer.

I don’t know. I didn’t dislike this book — I read it very quickly — but it lacked the sparkle of Anna. Part of that is the switch in settings, I’d wager; I’m quickly on my way to becoming a francophile, and the Parisian scenes in Perkins’ debut are to die for. Though I love San Francisco, I’ve never left my “heart there,” so to speak. It didn’t captivate me the way that France did.

And, you know. Cricket is American. Cute — very cute — but American. And St. Clair is British. So in Meg’s Book of Hotness, St. Clair automatically wins.

Fans of Perkins’ first novel and young adult fiction might find Lola and the Boy Next Door to be a fun, if predictable, read. I appreciated the unique characters, but I didn’t want to crush this book in a hug the way I did with Anna.


3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525423281 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Book review: ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ by Stephanie Perkins

Oh, this book. This book. I spent half of it pacing around; another half getting weepy and silly and emotional; another half clutching it to my chest and swooning like a 16-year-old.

Wait — was that three “halves”?

I’m losing my mind. But that’s what Anna and the French Kiss will do to you.

Seventeen-year-old Anna is the daughter of a famous schmaltzy writer who wants to give his daughter the chance to broaden her horizons — at a boarding school in France. Far from her home in Atlanta, Ga., Anna arrives at School of America in Paris without friends or the boyfriend she’s hoped to have by now: Toph, a former coworker at the movie theatre where they both worked.

It’s not long before Anna settles in, though, and begins to get the lay of the land at SOAP — with the help of new buddies, of course. Meredith, Rashmi and Josh welcome her into their circle of artists and athletes, but it’s the group’s wayward member — Etienne St. Clair, friend to all and hot as can be — that really grabs Anna’s attention.

Of course, she’s not interested in St. Clair. He’s sweet, funny and gregarious, plus he has a British accent and amazing hair, but Etienne has something else, too: a girlfriend. And Anna is missing Toph and her best friend stateside, Bridgette, so she has no time to worry about him. Or does she . . .

Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss really is as awesome as everyone claims. Like the colorful macarons Perkins describes, I couldn’t help but devour entire passages of this book whole. It’s funny, entertaining, witty, realistic and oh, so romantic. So romantic. I’m telling you now, I was swooning from here to the Atlantic with this novel clutched to my chest.

Etienne is so my new book crush. (But you’ll always be my first love, Marcus.)

You know when your best friend falls for a guy and talks about him so much that you start to think, “Hey, you know what? You’re right. That dude is awesome.” That’s totally Anna and me, BFFs: in love with the same man. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Etienne St. Clair, so I didn’t even try to stop myself. It would have been like putting out a house fire with a bottle of water. Smokin’.

Ahem.

So yes. This book. This book. I loved Anna and her occasionally clueless self. She felt like a real teen, a real friend — a young woman who was both intelligent and adorable, eager to please her family but struggling under the weight of her parents’ divorce. She was so linked to her little brother, Sean, that it tugged at my heartstrings. And even though she had all sorts of Big Stuff going on, it didn’t bring her down. She just kept moving forward, learning and experiencing as she went.

Anna and St. Clair’s friends were all well-drawn and believable, too. There when you needed them, but with their own difficulties to figure out. Again: realistic. I think that’s what I loved so much about this book: it was like I could have stepped right through the pages and sat with them at lunch. It made me — a 25-year-old — feel like I belonged at SOAP, too.

France came alive under Perkins’ fingertips, and I haven’t wanted to visit this bad since finishing French Milk last year. There is so much to love here — I could go on and on. But rather than encourage you to keep reading a ridiculously long review, just go get Anna and the French Kiss. Perkins has crafted a young adult book that readers of all ages will enjoy, relate to and, like me, want to hug after the final page has closed.

I totally hugged this book.

And I think you will, too.


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525423273 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg