Isla and the Happily Ever After
Isla Martin has been in love with Joshua Wasserstein since she first saw him in ninth grade, but between Isla’s shyness and Josh’s misunderstanding of her relationship with her best friend Kurt, the two never managed to get on the same page. Suddenly it’s senior year, and these bicultural New Yorker/Parisians have started to figure things out – but maybe too late. Isla and the Happily Ever After is the sequel to the DIK Anna and the French Kiss and also Lola and the Boy Next Door,, though you don’t have to have read the other books first. While I adored Anna and found Lola engaging, Isla doesn’t quite live up to them.
Isla is bland – a shy girl who we’re told is exceptionally bright, but who doesn’t have any strong interests or characteristics to bring her to life for the reader. Isla herself realizes this, wishing she had a driving passion to guide her into her college and career future, but you can be an interesting character even if you haven’t found your life’s calling. She just never came to life for me. Josh, by contrast, is all superlatives and personality: he’s a brilliant artist focused on graphic novels; he’s a bad-boy with a tattoo; he fakes his observance of Jewish holidays to cut class and is constantly skating on the edge of expulsion, and of course his test scores are even better than Isla’s, because all boys with bad grades could ace calculus if they really wanted to.
I’m not a bad-boy reader. I like good guys who work hard, support their heroines, and don’t expect shortcuts, and I was not charmed by Josh pulling Isla into his world of misbehavior and bad choices. However, this is a personal preference. I grant both that many readers will find Josh attractive, and that his behavior and its consequences are realistically written. It’s not a question of whether or not it works, it’s just a question of whether or not it worked for me.
Josh is also the son of a senator, and the world of fame and politics Josh inhabits back in New York makes quiet Isla feel lost. Beyond that, there are no substantial obstacles to Josh and Isla’s happiness beyond those of their own creation. Josh goes too far with his behavior and ends up separated from Isla; then, just when they get back together, Isla becomes rampagingly insecure and decides she should break up with Josh before he can break up with her. It’s realistic in that it’s both young and stupid, but I would have preferred more mature conflicts. For instance, Isla has a fraught and truthful relationship with her younger sister Hattie, and her best friend Kurt (with his mild autism/Asperger’s) caused friction with her previous boyfriend. Isla isn’t Jewish, which could have been an issue for Josh’s parents; Josh gets Isla into trouble but Isla’s parents barely seem to mind. I would have liked to have seen more of these secondary characters, and more intersections between these relationships and Josh and Isla’s romance.
Isla and Josh have both been in Paris for years. While it was inevitable that a novel starring students who had been at the school longer would lack that marvelous expat love/hate setting that enriched Anna and the French Kiss , Perkins didn’t find something else to fill in for it. Isla’s fish-out-of-water feelings in Josh’s political life just felt like watered-down versions of Anna’s confusion in Paris.
The book is well-written. It is occasionally overwrought (“My soul aches with attraction”), but it’s written in the first-person by a narrator who’s supposed to be seventeen, so I forgave it. Be aware that this book stars teenagers and does include sex, which I know puts off some readers. Although it’s discreetly written, it still makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable.
While Anna and the French Kiss was a young adult novel for adults and teens alike, Isla and the Happily Ever After is emphatically a young adult novel for young adults. From the writing to the character choices to the overreactions and drama, it’s realistic – but in a way that, as an adult, just made me want to sigh and be grateful I grew out of it. Teens who enjoyed the two previous books, Anna and Lola and the Boy Next Door, will probably still love Isla. Adults who enjoyed them will be a bit let down.