Desert Isle Keeper
Anna and the French Kiss
When my teenage student walked into my classroom, slammed a copy of this book on the desk, and announced, in audible capital letters, “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN,” I knew Anna and the French Kiss was something special. A contemporary story of discovering the world and yourself at the same time, Anna works for readers of any age. If you read young adult, read Anna. If you don’t read young adult, start with Anna. You won’t be sorry.
Anna Oliphant wants to stay at her Georgia high school with her best friend, the cute boy at the Multiplex named Toph, and the familiarity of United States rites of passage like Homecoming and Prom. Her father, however, has other plans: Anna will acquire Culture by spending her senior year in Paris. Anna, who speaks no French and has barely traveled, struggles to fit into this strange new world. Can she make new friends without replacing her best friend back home? Can she make new friends, full stop? Would getting to know Etienne St. Clair, her gorgeous French-American classmate, be a betrayal of the relationship she and Toph never had a chance to begin? Will she ever learn enough French to order something besides bread?
Anna is a lively, engaging first-person narrator, often laugh-out-loud funny (her father’s Nicholas Sparks-style books, for instance, are “about folks with Good American Values who Fall in Love and then contract Life-Threatening Diseases and Die”). I appreciated the fact that Anna takes her teenage conflicts seriously without acting melodramatic – in fact, the emotional manipulation is something she can’t stand about her father’s books. Etienne has more depth than typical YA love interests, including a life beyond Anna. What’s most appealing about him to me, as an adult reader, is how good he is for Anna. He helps her with French. He takes her around Paris, overcoming his fear of heights to show her the tall parts. He supports her as she struggles with her family and friends back home. He’s not a glamorous bad boy or a stalker-admirer, but rather an ordinary guy – the stuff of which stable (albeit affluent, cosmopolitan, and good-looking!) long-term partners are made.
It’s a tribute to the richness of the story that Anna seems be a slightly different book for everyone I’ve talked to who read it. For my student, Anna captured the instability of even the best-intentioned teen friendships and relationships. This is not an oversimplified “I knew we’d be best friends immediately” or “Of course I forgive you, what are friends for?” sort of book. It’s filled with credible, cringe-worthy screwups, a fair share committed by Anna herself, and the solutions, when they exist, are not oversimplified. By contrast, I connected Anna’s insecurity in a foreign city to my own years as an expat. I’ve also felt Anna’s reverse-culture shock upon returning home, and her awkwardness with friends and family who don’t really want to hear about her new life. (In one authentic example, Anna rejects drive-through coffee and is accused of being a Eurofied snob). My sister found a third story in the book, relating Anna’s boarding school isolation to her own first months at college, and said she wished she’d read the book before she went to school, as it would have helped her feel less alone.
If you like interesting, detailed settings, quality writing, and a heroine worth rooting for, I wholeheartedly encourage you give Anna and the French Kiss a try. I wonder what story it will be for you.