“I’ll only be a twenty-minute train ride from your school, and I’ll make the commute to see you every night. I’d take a commute ten times that just to be with you every night.”
For her senior year of high school Anna Oliphant is sent to a boarding school in Paris by her bestselling author father. Anna’s not thrilled about it, until she meets Etienne St. Clair, a gorgeous half-French, half-British American citizen with a British accent. Anna quickly falls in love but Etienne has a girlfriend. And Anna also has someone waiting back home in Atlanta.
Is the story as cliched romantic comedy-esque as it sounds? Yes. Is it a cute and funny read? Yes.
Anna has been out for a few years now and has been a bit of a cult favorite in the book blogosphere but it’s only come to my attention a few months ago when I started seeing it all over Tumblr. I can see why a lot of people like it and I think if I had read this exactly a year ago, I would have loved it. But my recently acquired cynicism on love and relationships has impeded my ability to enjoy romantic fluff. That said, there are things I enjoy about it and things that I didn’t like.
Let’s start with Etienne. Last year I would have been swooning over him. Cute boy with a British accent? Yes, please. But he was a crappy boyfriend. I’m glad that he at least acknowledges that. And this is the part that is completely colored by my recent experiences and my own personal fears. I think that we all want to be the Anna in a story. We want to have the starring role and to be the one that the guy falls in love with and chooses. We want to be the one he rides off into the sunset with. But sometimes in life we have to be the Ellie. The cast-aside girlfriend who slowly loses her boyfriend. One of my acute fears is being an Ellie. I’ve been a Meredith, pining away for a boy that doesn’t see me. I haven’t lost my boyfriend to another girl (not exactly) but I do feel for Ellie, even though we almost never see her and know almost nothing about her character. But the fact is this: Etienne should have broken up with her when he started liking Anna. That is what a decent and mature human being would do. Etienne tried to have it both ways, the comfort and familiarity of a girlfriend and something new, exciting, and passionate with Anna. Does it make him a jerk? No. He’s an 18 year old guy who was in a really bad situation. By the end, he knows and acknowledges that what he did was wrong. He acknowledges that he was emotionally and mentally cheating on Ellie from the moment he met Anna. He was a coward and he knows it. This is actually one of the aspects of the novel and of his character that I really liked. Etienne St. Clair is not a manic pixie dream boy. He’s a flawed human being who makes mistakes, does stupid things, and unintentionally hurts people. In short, he’s a real person. I’m of the belief that fictional characters shouldn’t have to be perfect to be likable, and that they don’t have to be likable to be interesting.
And that brings me to Anna. She’s a flawed and real character as well. I was really aggravated by her at some points, particularly when she got really whiny and self-righteous about Etienne not leaving Ellie. Seriously. Please, any girl, when you’re breaking up someone’s relationship, picture yourself in the other girl’s shoes. Do YOU want to be the girl that gets cheated on or gets left for someone else? Even if it’s a bad relationship or a relationship that’s run its course, it still hurts a ridiculous amount to get rejected and to be broken up with. Remember that in life we’re not always going to be Anna. Sometimes we’ll be Ellie and it will really suck. So yeah, I think Anna could have been more compassionate and respectful of Ellie. But she’s an 18 year old girl without much experience in relationships and is still pretty immature. I may not like it but I can at least understand it. What I really don’t like is how Anna handled the Dave situation. Dave was absolutely a jerk for lying and letting the school slut shame Anna. That was an asshole move pure and simple and Anna in no way deserved it. Understand that I’m not defending his actions. But Anna did lead him on and made him think that she liked him, and then she didn’t properly break up with him or even attempt to explain to his face why she didn’t like him and why things wouldn’t work out between them. That was pretty crappy on Anna’s part and it’s not even acknowledged. Just like Anna doesn’t spare a thought for Ellie’s feelings, she also doesn’t even think about how Dave is also a human being and that he has feelings that were hurt and that may be why he (wrongly) lashed out and spread lies about Anna. Anna doesn’t think about this and makes no apologies for it, unlike how Etienne acknowledged the crappy things he did and how he hurt both Anna and Ellie. This is the part in the characterization that bugs me.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Anna and the French Kiss. Is it the bestest book ever? No, not really. Does it deserve the hype? It has real relatable, flawed characters and an escapist storyline so I can understand why it’s popular. But the hype made me expect more.