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Here on the other side of the last page, I will admit that I was unfair to “Anna and the French Kiss” at first. Based on the title and what little I had heard of the premise, I expected it to be an empty-headed, thin cotton-candy fest about some vapid young girl and the “oh so hot” French boy she met on vacation. I would have passed it by without a second look if a rave review from author John Green hadn’t convinced me to slow down and give it a shot. So, thanks to John, “Anna and the French Kiss” now stands as yet further proof that one cannot judge a book by its title and basic premise…or something like that.

In my previous review, I said that “Anna and the French Kiss” was a refreshing return to old fashioned YA. This would be true even if it was “average” old-fashioned YA, but, as the story unfolded, it revealed itself to be well above the average mark. I’ve already mentioned my appreciation for Anna as a character, but it’s worth pointing out again: even pre-Twilight, some YA heroines were more than a little empty-headed and uninteresting, but Anna Oliphant, with her quirky humor and unique voice and passionate love of cinema, easily ranks among the most interesting and likeable YA heroines that I have come across since I started reading the genre ten years ago. Anna is real: she has goals and desires that are completely separate from her potential love interests; she has real flaws and challenges to overcome within herself–and so does her love interest, for that matter. This simple fact makes them each engaging and likeable on their own, as well as a ton of fun when they are together.

Another wonderful surprise that elevated “Anna and the French Kiss” above many of its peers was the presence of unexpected plot complexities. On the surface, the story presents itself as little more than a light, cotton-candy romp, but once the novel gives you time to get comfortable with the characters and understand the twists and turns of their relationships, it brings in some very serious conflicts that test those characters and adds new complexity to their relationships in a way that has you invested and rooting for them to make the right choices. None of it is melo-dramatic, either: in its own YA fashion, the conflicts presented in the latter half of the novel have the feel of real life: how it can give you a black eye when you least expect it and demand courage when you least want to show it.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that “Anna and the French Kiss” is exactly what I always believed YA could and should be–a story that can both tackle real issues with heart and sincerity and relax and have fun at the same time. Striking that balance is far from easy, but Stephanie Perkins’s “Anna and the French Kiss” proves that it is possible.

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