Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins (3.5 stars out of 5)
Yesterday I read the popular young adult book Anna and the French Kiss. I tried to make myself pick up a few more young adult books from the library, but the sappy cover images and the blurbs on the back that made the majority of the books I looked at (in the first shelf of the local library’s collection, so authors starting with ‘A’) seem shallow and dumb. I will get to them eventually, but maybe not until I have read a few classics with romance in them. There are MANY classic, respected novels with romance and themes of self discovery &/or coming-of-age. I am fascinated by what makes books written for a teenage female audience different, and what makes books ‘chick-lit’, or women’s fiction rather than just fiction. Is it sexism? Are these genres excuses for authors getting away with sloppy writing, so that they really are generally lousy novels? Many men have never read a book written by a woman, and most people who read tend to have ~60% male authors in their book stacks. Clearly gender is an interesting issue in the book world. Anna and the French Kiss is a coming of age novel about a 17yr-old girl, a spoiled, annoyingly pouty and lazy creature who is sent to Paris for her high school senior year and spends the first few chapters of her story whining about being in Paris. She knew she was going to France for months before she arrived there, yet she didn’t bother to learn any more French than how to spell ‘oui’. Her father is a novelist whose books have become very successful, and rather than be happy for him she is always complaining about him and detests his books and the movies that are made off of them. Can you tell I disliked Anna? But she is a 17yr-old girl, and I am sure many real teenage girls are similar to her. I can’t expect a teenager to possess the wisdom of a 35yr-old, after all. And, quite a few teenagers act spoiled, refuse to take steps to help themselves (by learning a few French words, for example) and seem to think the world owes them favors.
My biggest question while reading this novel was what makes it not read like the classics I have devoured in the past. I’ve read a lot of coming-of-age classics with spoiled, annoying protagonists and romantic dramas, and this book does not seem to have the same depth as those classic novels. It wasn’t just details like Anna’s grumbling about having to take math, science and history classes, or her complete inability to understand how the world might keep on turning in Atlanta while she’s in Paris for a year. Maybe Anna was a little less shallow by the end of the book, but only barely. She gets her boyfriend of choice, she gets into her college of choice, her friends all forgive her for being unkind and unreasonable to them, and she doesn’t have to resolve her relationship with her father, nor does her boyfriend have to resolve his issues with his father. Really nothing much was learned and nothing much changed in this novel except that Anna speaks a bit of French now and has gotten over a boy who was never her boyfriend anyway. As plots go, this one was pretty flat. And, while maybe some of this paragraph was spoilers, none of this was a surprise after the first few set-up chapters. Of course she’d get her guy, after a few hundred pages of filler and a breakup everyone, including all the characters, could see coming from page 1.
Was it a fun read? Sure. I have studied French, and would enjoy spending a year in Paris, especially in a sheltered environment like Anna’s school, where one can get by with speaking English until one’s French is tolerably decent. I liked that Anna was into classic movies, even if she was clueless about the fact that Paris has lots of movie theaters and a film industry. And, while I wished this book spent more time fleshing out those scenes, I liked the bits where Anna and her friends were out and about in Paris (especially the bookshop and the pastry shop). As a fast, light read, Anna and the French Kiss felt a bit too long, but not so long as to feel tedious. This would be a good book to read while doing laundry or babysitting, a fun book, but not so absorbing that you won’t get some work done in between chapters.