This book has been creating such waves around the blogging world with YA lovers and even with some non-YA lovers. I’ve resisted reading it for quite a while because I thought the title was just lame. And it is. But eventually the gushing of how wonderful and cute it was got too loud to ignore so I finally made myself check it from the library and get stuck into it.
Anna is about to start her senior year in Atlanta, Georgia when her wealthy novelist father decides that he will enrol her in an exclusive French boarding school because it will allow her to experience another culture and also, because it’s what wealthy people do – they have children enrolled in expensive boarding schools. Anna is not looking forward to spending her last school year in Paris as she wasn’t even consulted on this decision. She will miss her best friend Bridget and the boy she was on the verge of starting a relationship with back in America, not to mention her mother and her little brother. But her father is unmoving and soon Anna finds herself unpacking in her new room.
Her next-door-neighbour in the dorm hears her crying after her parents have left her there and comes over to introduce herself and make Anna feel welcome, drawing Anna into her circle of friends. A circle which includes Etienne St Clair, a gorgeous and likable French/American/English combination whom Anna immediately hits it off with. They become good friends right away, often splitting from the group into a twosome as Etienne undertakes to show Anna some of Paris when it comes out that she hasn’t experienced anything beyond the grounds of S.O.A.P (School of America in Paris). Despite the fact that Etienne also seems into Anna, he has a very steady girlfriend, who is at college not to far away from their school. Despite an attraction that is growing and growing between them, Etienne seems to make no move, or have no intentions, of breaking up with his girlfriend and Anna is finding it harder and harder to be the stronger person and not cross any lines.
It’s really odd that I loved loved this book because usually I can’t accept this sort of circumstance – where one character has a significant other already and ‘stuff happens’ with someone else long before there’s any splitting in that relationship. I’m not sure why I didn’t mind it here – whether it was the way that Anna and Etienne and their whole falling in love is portrayed, whether it was the fact that Etienne’s girlfriend was this barely-even-peripheral character who appears a grand total of about two times in the story and for less than a minute. She seems distant from him, and from Anna’s new group of friends, who were her friends too before she went to college. All I know is that while reading it, I wasn’t bothered once by the fact that Etienne was already taken. And normally that would’ve been enough for me to barely finish the book!
Anna herself is a breath of fresh air – her descriptions of her successful novelist father (who sounds disturbingly like a Nicholas Sparks sort, writing best sellers about people Who Get Terminal Illnesses and Then Die, which are then optioned into hugely successful films) are hilarious, especially as Anna is a burgeoning film critic with refined cinematic taste. She attempts to convert her new friends to the classics with varying success as she starts to loosen up and enjoy Paris, something that only really starts to happen when she realises how many cinemas there are in Paris and how wide the choice of what’s screening is.
Her group of friends are fun and also portrayed well through Anna’s eyes. They are not without their flaws and quirks and we get to see them all as Anna negotiates making friends with them in the foreign country. She is at times, at odds with one or another of them but they always end up fixing things and apologizing where it’s needed. I thought the group of friends were really well written and very real. No one was perfect, even Etienne, who had his own issues and made his own stupid mistakes and owned up to them in the end.
Even though the setting of a boarding school is overused in YA and deals neatly with dispensing of any responsible adult supervision by having this one structured as more like a university form for the juniors and seniors, the setting somehow still seems to work. I think this is because of the way Perkins expertly captures Anna’s nervousness and unease about starting this new school where she is completely out of her depth (she doesn’t speak French and even though it isn’t strictly necessary, she still feels the inadequacy) and being in a foreign country that in the beginning, she is almost too scared of to explore. It isn’t until her friends force her beyond the boundaries of the school grounds that she starts to experience Paris.
There’s nothing really new and original that I can say about this book that hasn’t been said in a thousand other reviews – it just really is that enjoyable. It sucks you in with a great premise, a cast of really lovable characters and of course, Etienne, who manages to still be totally adorable even though he’s indecisive and won’t dump his girlfriend! If you haven’t read it already, be it for reasons petty like mine, or others, put them aside and give it a go!
Book #83 of 2011