Release Date: December 2, 2010
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris--until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all...including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?
I am absolutely not the target audience for Anna and the French Kiss. It seems prudent to just start the review with that. The books does what it tries to do very well: It’s a convincing story about high school with a narrator who both acts and sounds like a high school girl. Unfortunately, I’m neither in high school, nor am I a girl (shocking, I know). Listening to or interacting with high schools girls is near the very bottom of my current interests. The novel is sort of like the teenage romance version of The Catcher In The Rye. It does exactly what it sets out to do and I do respect it for that, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed reading it.
My biggest criticism of the novel is that very little actually happens to Anna. Lots of stuff happens around her, but aside from a few scenes with St. Claire and her family, Anna is very rarely the cause of or affected by the action. In fact, most of the stuff that happens around her is just briefly mentioned instead of actually shown. For example, there is a subplot in which a character has cancer. At no point do we even meet this character. The character doesn’t even have a name; we only know them because of their relationship to another character. We’re told intermittently how this character is faring, but we have no reason to care. We don’t know what this person is like. We never see this person’s relationship with the character we’re supposed to care about. The entire episode is used as a lazy way to try to make you care, but never gives you a reason to. The book is littered with tell-don’t-show moments like this. Characters fight, make up, have different fights, and break up all in one-to-two sentence tidbits scattered throughout the novel. To be fair, it makes sense that we won’t be privy to all of the gory details, since Anna herself is a bit of an outsider, but that doesn’t make the technique feel less boring and cheap.
Anna’s penchant for just telling us stuff that’s happened instead of actually showing us the scene is doubly disappointing because Perkins is really good when she actually writes a story scene. Her dialogue is well done and generally sounds natural. She’s very good at pacing a scene and Anna’s inner monologue is quite believable. Some of her descriptions of the settings and architecture are impressive. Her illustration of the sweets in a cake shop stands out as particularly well done. During some of the later conversations between Anna and St. Claire, I was surprised to find that Perkins’ descriptions and pacing had me rapidly turning pages despite my caring very little for either of the characters.
It’s unfortunate that I didn’t care for either Anna or St. Claire, because the other characters in the novel have very little depth. Josh matters only because he’s St. Claire’s best friend. Rashimi seems to only be there to have random fights with Josh so certain scenes can be more awkward. Of course, we never see the cause of or resolution to these fights. After the first few chapters, Meredith is relegated to being some vague obstacle to make Anna feel bad about liking St. Claire. The saddest part is that the characters seem like they’d be interesting if Perkins ever gave them something to do.
Some of them have conflicts running in the background that have potential, if only we got to know the characters and see the conflict. Instead, the characters feel like obstacles at best and afterthoughts at worst, only there to try to drum up tension without actually working to earn it. Even a character who is set up as a sort of “big bad” gets one, wholly underwhelming appearance. His entire subplot and all of the talk about him in the novel could have been excised and the novel would have lost nothing important.
It’s a shame that the execution didn’t click with me (although I can see how it would work for some: it really does do a good job of feeling like a high school girl’s diary), because there are some very good insights in here and a few moments that made me legitimately laugh out loud. I found Anna’s realization that home isn’t home because of its physical location, but because of the people there, a particularly good one to spell out. It’s something we all learn eventually, but is a good message to send to the target audience. In fact, Perkins does a pretty good job of making a book about high school seem an awful lot like the first year of college and packing in lots of little morals (mostly just told to the reader) about what that life is like.
With all that in mind, I think the book is fine for what it wants to be. Sadly, what it wants to be isn’t something I’m particularly interested in reading. I didn’t hate the novel; I just didn’t care. By the first time Josh and Rashimi had a fight we didn’t know the cause of, I was yearning for some ridiculous, Nicholas-Sparks-esque twist, like Anna contracting a debilitating disease or the world being overrun by some sort of Unicorn Armageddon. I sort of respect Perkins for instead opting for a mostly typical, realistic, down-to-earth love story, even if I found the result rather uninteresting.