Not only was Anna and the French Kiss recommended by a friend, but it was also named one NPR's "Best Teen Reads" of 2010 and was on YALSA's "Best Fiction for Young Adults" list in 2012. And while I am not a teen/young adult, I do want to be a librarian for that age group, so I decided I really needed to check it out. And I am SO GLAD that I did.
Stephanie Perkins had me enchanted from the very first chapter. Though I was hesitant to start, I couldn't put it down once I started reading. I tore through it in just over a day. I enjoyed it so much that I almost (almost) didn't mind staying up for half the night with a fussy baby. This book was simply delicious. Within minutes of finishing it, I was checking out Stephanie Perkins' website, then running searches of the catalogs of libraries in my area to figure out where I can get my hands on her next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door (also not the greatest title I've ever heard, but I don't care).
The basic storyline of Anna is quite simple. Anna Oliphant's father has enrolled her in a French boarding school for her senior year of high school, much against her own wishes. So she finds herself in Paris, not knowing a single person or able to speak any French, far away from her best friend and her love interest back home in Atlanta. Thankfully, she is befriended by the nice girl next door, who introduces her to Etienne St. Clair, a British/American/French classmate. Anna quickly develops a huge crush on St. Clair, who unfortunately already has a serious girlfriend. But more importantly, Anna and St. Clair become the best of friends. Over the course of their tumultuous senior year, the two of them help each other through problems with friends, family, and other romantic interests. They help each other to overcome their fears, and they explore Paris together.
This book made me want to hop on the next flight to Paris, to eat crepes and go sightseeing. It reminded me vividly of everything I loved (and also everything I feared) about studying abroad. I was immediately transported back to those days of trying to maintain relationships at home via email and home while being half a world away. I remembered exploring new places, trying new foods, and making new friends, all the while knowing that my time there was limited. While I was studying in Ireland, my best friend Melissa studied abroad in Paris, and I was able to visit her there and have her show me some of her favorite spots in the city. Nearly all of those places appeared in Anna and the French Kiss, and it inspired great memories of Melissa and I wandering the streets of Paris (and enjoying banana and Nutella crepes, which happen to be my favorite as well as Anna's in the book).
The strength of the memories that this book inspired is proof of how true-to-life its story and characters are. I found the characters to be both lovable and completely realistic. I loved the narrator's voice--I would have definitely wanted to be friends with her. Their conversations were witty and funny and real. Ladies, check this book out for a delightful reminder of what it's like to fall in love for the first time.