Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kissis the story of Anna, an 18-year-old American girl who gets sent to boarding school in Paris against her will, only to meet St. Clair, a good looking guy who she falls in love with.
Funnily enough, I also lived in Paris when I was 18. However, the similarities between Anna’s and my experiences in Paris stop there. The Paris in this book is the post card variety everyone who’s never visited associates with Paris. But Paris is not a post card. Paris is dirty, smelly, smoky, filled with homeless people, poverty, social unrest, racial tension, and crowds. It took me a long time to appreciate Paris for all of its faults, for all of its post-colonial dysfunction. But I did, and now there’s a part of my heart (probably the part that’s black from second-hand smoke) where Paris lives. The Paris Anna comes to love is a quaint, perfect version of Paris that doesn’t really exist.
Here are a couple of examples of how my experience in Paris differed from Anna’s: In the Luxembourg Gardens, Anna and St. Clair share an earth-shattering kiss amid sunshine and flowers. When I visited the Luxembourg Gardens, I was approached by a Bosnian woman who knew only one word in English—PLEASE. After trying to explain that I didn’t have any money, she screamed PLEASE over and over at me as I walked away. At Notre Dame cathedral, Anna and St. Clair share a couple romantic interludes. When I remember visiting Notre Dame, the first thing I think of is a man in a long black coat walking a dog who looked so skinny and shy, I knew the man had abused it. Anna visits Shakespeare and Company, a gnarly old English bookstore on the Seine. But she never climbs the rickety stairs to the children’s section, where beds are sandwiched between shelves. The beds are for young American and English writers who are given free lodging by the elderly proprietor so they may write their masterpieces. Amazing, right?
The real Paris is so much more interesting than the bright and shiny version depicted in Anna and the French Kiss. In addition to the unhappy aspects of Paris, there are wonderful things, too—the fungus-filled canals in the north, the incredibly diversity of people, the multitude of languages you hear walking down the street, the odd juxtaposition of sex shops and pharmacies and internet cafes on every street, the weird underground world of the metro. It almost hurts me to see the magical reality of Paris cast aside in favor of an image as superficial as a travel agency brochure.
I found almost all the characters similarly unrealistic, too. Anna’s love interest, St. Clair, was just too perfect. He’s got everything going on—perfect looks, perfect hair, cute accent, great sense of humor, sensitivity, intelligence. Whenever I pictured St. Clair, I imagined a 30-year-old man. St. Clair is definitely not a teenage boy. The author glazed over the wonderful weirdnesses of real teenage boys exactly as she glazed over the wonderful weirdnesses of Paris. What we’re left with is fake and unsatisfying.
I did enjoy the fact that Anna is a bit unconventional. I liked that she’s a movie buff, has a stripe in her hair, and isn’t afraid to throw a punch. I think the author was smart to create a strong cast of supporting characters and to weave multiple subplots throughout the book. There were times when I enjoyed the book and the characters, but my overall impression was lackluster.
I know I had a reading experience that’s very specific to me and my personal history and tastes, one that most readers probably won’t have. Anna and the French Kiss comes very highly recommended by authors and bloggers I love, so I know my opinion is in the minority. I still feel that readers deserve a better reading experience than this, but you may enjoy Anna and the French Kiss if you’re in the mood for a very light, fantasy romance.