Tag Archives: Contemporary

Book Recommendation: Anna and the French Kiss

30 Dec

For the past month, all I’ve been hearing about is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, so when I found myself at Barnes & Noble with some Christmas money to blow, I knew which book I’d be taking home. Our very own Mandy Hubbard had mentioned how much she enjoyed it, along with just about every YA reader out there. Trusting their expert opinions, I happily grabbed my copy off the shelf, marched to the checkout line, and promptly forgot to read it over the Christmas holiday. Luckily, I had a flight that would require some entertainment, and wound up reading the entire book in one sitting yesterday.

YOU GUYS. If you don’t already own a copy of this book, go out today and buy it. Check it out from your local library. I don’t care how you get a hold of it, just do it. You won’t regret it.

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?

First of all, be prepared to laugh. No one warned me, so I’m telling you now. This book is hilarious. Anna is full of observations and commentary about her life and the people in it, and nearly all of them brought a smile to my face. Some of the conversations she has, and the things she does to avoid embarrassing herself, are just adorable. Stuck in a new city, in a new country where she can’t speak French, she’s constantly taking note of the way people act and speak. At one point she even writes out, phonetically, how to order a movie ticket. Little things like that are what really make this book shine. Not to mention that fact that it just makes you feel good. By the time you turn the last page, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible not to.

Anna and St. Clair really make the story. Anna’s voice is fantastic, sarcastic, funny, charming, and exactly how your best friend sounds. You feel like you’ve known her your entire life. St. Clair is that guy you fantasize about, that you wish weren’t fictional. He has flaws, makes mistakes, but you can’t help but fall in love with him along with Anna, and every other girl who attends SOAP. Their friends are all people you can recognize from your own life, and like just about everyone on the planet, they have to deal with moving away from home, family drama, and the ups and downs that come with being a teenager. The high school drama is there, but never in a dose they can’t handle. Anna is forced to deal with stereotypes Americans have of foreigners, and vice versa. The situations these characters are put in are real, and the author does an incredible job of making you believe in everything that’s going on, and making you care. That’s the most important thing —  you really care about these characters. Even past the last page. (I would know, I’ve been thinking about this book nonstop since I finished it.)

I’ve read a lot of YA in my time, and I think this is one of the most convincing love stories I’ve ever come across. I believed every bit of it. Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. Sure, there was some drama – its protagonists are teenagers – but it was never too much or over-the-top. It walked that fine line very well, and I actually found myself wanting to give the characters advice on numerous occasions. I think it’s rare when you care that much about a fictional character, and I applaud Stephanie Perkins for that. The girl has a gift.

Though my knowledge of Paris is similar to Anna’s at the very beginning of the book (Amelie and Moulin Rouge), I grew to know it along with her. As a reader, you’re gradually taught some of the idiosyncrasies of Paris and its people, how some things are pronounced, and even run across a few important landmarks. It’s like going to Paris, but not. Now that I’ve got this mental picture stuck in my head, I’m even more determined to see the real thing.

Part of the reason I really loved this book was because Anna’s journey is one many readers can connect with. She has to learn to navigate a new city, make new friends, adjust to a new culture, learn another language, and numerous other challenges. When she managed to overcome those problems, I wanted to cheer for her! I clapped when she finally braved the city on her own, and I felt her pain when she realized things at home weren’t as great as she remembered. Living abroad changes you. It’s unavoidable. I liked that Stephanie Perkins included that detail in her story because it made Anna’s situation even more realistic. And lord knows there are probably plenty of us who have been in love with our best friend at one time or another. If you have, this book will ring especially true for you. And if you haven’t, well, you’ll learn how frustrating it is! The emotional roller coaster is spot-on.

Everything about this story is totally charming, from the title to the very last sentence. I’m happy to report there are two companion novels that will follow, but in the meantime, if you buy one book this year, buy this one. I promise you won’t regret it.

~~~

Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is taking a break from querying to work on a new project, a YA dystopian. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.

Book Recommendation: Stolen

3 Jul

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

“You saw me before I saw you.”

Imagine being taken, and then finding yourself one day suddenly stuck in the middle of the Australian desert. No matter where you look, there is nothing; no people, no real landmarks, and no escape. How do you survive? Even if you run, where will you go? This is what Stolen deals with; a girl who is kidnapped and faced with the frighteningly alien landscape that is Australia’s outback. It alters the definition of what it means to be trapped.

When I first heard of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, I was instantly intrigued. I really have to thank my friend over at Scholastic for introducing this book to me. Its cover is so simple, and the back blurb doesn’t do this book justice; if I had seen it at a bookstore, I’m not sure I would’ve picked it up. But all she had to say were the words “Stockholm Syndrome” and “kidnap”, and I was interested. I don’t want to ruin too much, so I’ll avoid talking about things in too much detail.

Here’s the description from Goodreads about our Book of the Month pick for July:

Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don’t exist – almost.

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I know the reaction some people have had after reading the various blurbs about this story. Some think this book sounds anti-feminist and disgusting. But here’s the thing: Stockholm Syndrome exists. People who are kidnapped for long periods of time often develop it, and for whatever reason, they end up forming a bond with their captor. There are various reasons as to why this probably happens; but I for one have always been fascinated behind the psychology of it. Does Lucy Christopher glorify it? No. She explores this topic with such heartbreak and confusion and despair and wonder; with so much depth and maturity and seriousness that it will leave one feeling breathless.

Stolen’s prose is beautiful. Written as a letter to her captor, the story still bears all the tension as if this wasn’t something Gemma was looking back and reflecting upon. And yet, there is such surreal beauty that comes from the landscape that is the Australian outback. If anything is glorified, it is that; the beauty of the natural wilderness.

And something strange happens while you read; you find yourself feeling attachment to the landscape, and to Ty, the captor. Christopher is able to make us, the reader, feel all the conflicting emotions that Gemma herself feels. We know what he has done is wrong, and yet you’ll find yourself sympathizing with him, even if you don’t want to. It is the skill of her craft that will leave you feeling the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. And that is the beauty of her prose; it is lyrical and paints such a clear portrait of the red-brown sand that is the Australian wilderness; and it also conveys so much emotion, and creates these characters that are hauntingly sympathetic.

The characters really make Stolen so great; Gemma and Ty, and even the landscape, are brilliantly explored. Gemma is a real sixteen year old; she is frightened, and tense, and alone except for Ty. Her voice is so clear, and so compelling; by the end of the book, you feel as if you are in her head. Even though she is faced with such hopelessness, there is a will there; a fire that won’t burn out. Her defiance often leads to even more problems. She struggles with trying to accept what has happened, and refusing to allow it to continue. Ty is equally as great a character as Gemma. He is frightening yet calming, angry yet hostile, a stranger yet familiar. He is contradictory, and flawed, and delusional. And yet you can’t deny the intense love he holds for Gemma; the confusion that also eats away at him at times. He is older than Gemma, and yet so much a child. And, most brilliantly of all, he will confuse and sway you back and forth between love and hate.

Christopher’s description of the outback will stun you; I always felt as if I were under that beating sun, sweltering in the heat and whipped by the red sand that surrounds Gemma and Ty for miles on end. This landscape is the perfect backdrop for the exploration of what freedom really is; a theme that ties closely with the psychological problem of bonding with you captor. Love and relationships are also explored, with such gripping realism even set against a background that becomes surreal. And what a job Christopher does!

There is little action in this book; but really, the action and the suspense are in the interactions between these two characters. The psychological intensity will leave you reeling. And the ending was not what I expected; it will leave you speechless. I, for one, cried. And hopefully that, if anything, is proof of its merit.

I highly recommend this book. It is thoughtful and hauntingly beautiful. And chances are, it’ll be unlike any other YA book you’ve read in a long time.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.