Anna and the French Kiss is a novel that I wish I wasn’t conflicted about… But, I am.
I wanted desperately to give this young adult novel by Stephanie Perkins a rave review, and I honestly feel guilty about the review I’m about to write. I am definitely in the minority with my feelings about this story, and that is something that really surprised and disappointed me.
Okay, let’s start with the good… (As a general rule, I like to say at least a few good things about a novel to start a review, unless it made me royally angry and annoyed, which this one did not.)
That’s the really good about this novel. I’ve been to Paris and, like most human beings on this planet, I fell in love with it, so it was really lovely to read a story almost entirely set in Paris. I was excited to be able to picture the monuments, as well as the more quiet streets, and since I’ve been studying French since I was in the first grade, I did find it enjoyable to read about Anna’s experiences at a school in France and her process of becoming acclimatized to the language and culture. So, yeah, Paris was a good and smart locale for this story because it added to the overall ambiance of the tale.
Other than that though…well, honestly, without Paris, I feel like Anna and the French Kiss would’ve been a novel about nothing. If it had taken place in a more familiar, western setting, there would’ve been absolutely nothing interesting, unique or exciting about it. Don’t get me wrong, the novel was very cute – it was fluffy and light and airy. Those are adjectives that I think are ideal for a book that you choose to read when you’re in grade 8, but I think that, in this case, the story was too simplistic for the audience it attempted to target. The main character, Anna, and her friends are in their last year of high school, so around 17 to 18 years of age. I, personally, cannot picture a 17 or 18 year old reading this book and enjoying it. I know several readers who reviewed the novel on Goodreads were much older and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wonder if that is because they are viewing it with the lens of adulthood and are perhaps being a touch sentimental. Like I said, it is an adorable story in many ways, but it is also a bit young. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was too old to be reading a young adult novel, and that saddened me. For the most part, I think young adult novels can be very mature and edgy (I’m thinking of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, which I read recently and which truly taught me lessons and changed my perspective on many very adult issues), but I found Anna and the French Kiss to be juvenile and soft rather than sophisticated and hard-hitting.
I think that both too much and not enough of the novel focused on Anna’s crush on Étienne St. Clair. That really does seem like a massive contradiction, but I’ll try to explain: Anna spends a lot of time crushing on St. Clair, but she also spends a lot of time denying her feelings and trying to ignore them, and he spends a lot of time in another relationship that prevents him from even admitting his feelings to Anna, and vice versa. Although Anna narrates her time in class, some of her day trips with her friends, and how hot and endearing St. Clair is, other than that, nothing much happens in the novel and nothing much happens between Anna and St. Clair. For a novel branded as a romance (right down to the title), not a lot of actual romance happens and most of the novel is spent building towards a relationship that unfortunately doesn’t come across as that desirable or exciting anyway. I found myself not even really caring if Anna and St. Clair got together in the end, which I think is a sure sign that a romance novel has not done its job well enough. By three quarters of the way into the story, I was still wondering when the romance would start!
Even the conflicts, like Anna’s fight with her best friend Bridgette and St. Clair’s girlfriend situation, are glossed over for the most part and as readers, we never get to dig down into the root of any of these problems because our narrator, Anna, never does either. I’ve read some reviews where readers say they think that Anna is stupid as a character, but I wouldn’t go that far – on the contrary, I think that she’s smart enough to realize what her feelings are, but she’s just too lazy, both to investigate them and to express these emotions to her audience. Instead, she states what is running through her mind, flitting from one idea to the next in rapid succession, which makes it very hard to keep up with and keep track of her. She comes across as very wishy-washy and flat, and so does the story overall, mainly because there is no profound climax and because, basically, barely anything happens.
Now, as for Étienne St. Clair… I’ve read a lot of reviews where readers say they are absolutely in love with him and I am wholeheartedly confused as to why! He’s…sweet? I mean, okay, he’s not that sweet because he does have a girlfriend for most of the novel and yet he clearly still likes Anna as well and is giving her mixed signals. Having said that, he is very clearly a good guy, both when it comes to being a friend and being a son to his mother who is battling cancer. My favourite part of the entire novel was probably the emails that he and Anna exchange over their Christmas break – their back and forth was really adorable and somewhat flirtatious in this part, and I definitely got a sense that they were becoming best friends. That’s a lovely thing to behold in any relationship. But, when Anna returns home and reveals that she is heartstoppingly in love with him (she actually nearly falls down in the middle of a café just at the sight of him, which seemed a little melodramatic to me!), I was confused as to why. Sure, he’s attractive and he occasionally says things to Anna that make her feel attractive and confident, but they honestly don’t even speak all that much, and when they do, they talk about nothing. They go to the movies together, visit historical sites in Paris, and yet there’s no charged banter between them, no chemistry, no zing. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I wasn’t reading between the lines enough, I don’t know, but I just didn’t get a fire or a spark from Anna and St. Clair, and that is what disappointed me about the novel more than anything.
I think this is probably an ideal read for students in grade 9. Sure, there are some mature themes, but they aren’t really explored in too much detail and there isn’t anything graphic or too adult about this novel. I don’t think I can see an older audience, like students in grade 11 and 12, loving it because there just wasn’t enough to it, but a younger reader might like it as a nice introduction to some of the more sophisticated and mature young adult novels that are out there.
This is a really hard rating to give and I feel awful about it, but here we are…
❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart