The Situation: Anna Oliphant is starting her senior year of high school. But instead of returning to her familiar high school in Atlanta, Georgia with her best friend Bridgette and ex-boyfriend/friend Matt, she has packed her bags and grabbed her passport to attend the School of America in Paris, or SOAP. Paris is a far cry from Atlanta, and while this may be the opportunity of a lifetime - being able to spend her senior year of high school in the City of Lights - Anna is less than thrilled. She is only attending because of her father's insistence and need to impress others. Anna would rather continue with her hobby of reviewing films for fun, while also holding down a part-time job at a local Atlanta theater where her crush also works. As she stumbles through her first few days in Paris, keeping her room cleaner than most teenagers would and avoiding having to make any attempt at speaking French, she meets her neighbor, Meredith, and her other friends. While Meredith is single, Rashmi is dating Josh, the only junior of the group. And then there is St. Clair.
The Problem: St. Clair is definitely not single. His longtime girlfriend has already graduated and is attending a college not too far away. But that hasn't stopped Meredith from having a massive crush on him, and it doesn't seem to be stopping Anna either. But she manages to keep reminding herself that not only is St. Clair taken, but she also has Toph, who continues to email and call her from Atlanta. And as Anna keeps reminding herself about how things really stand, she and St. Clair become good friends. But if that is where he wants the relationship to stay, then why does he seem jealous of Toph? And any other guy that shows Anna any attention? Even as she continues to get to know him, Anna can never tell if St. Clair is just being the charming guy that everyone likes, or if he is giving her special attention. Either way, it still doesn't change the fact that he has a girlfriend, Meredith likes him, and against her better judgement, so does Anna. Soon, the fact that she is far away from home becomes the least of her worries.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that follows an American girl as she attends her senior year in a boarding school in Paris. So not only does Anna have to deal with being a high school senior, but she has to do so while getting used to a whole new school, in a whole new city, in a whole new country. Naturally there is plenty of comparisons between the U.S. and France, as well as much talk about the sights, sounds, people, and food of Paris. Because the school that Anna attends is specifically for American students, she doesn't have to use French too much while on campus, accept of course, during French class. But Anna does have the usual amount of culture shock when she first arrives, and it takes her a little longer than most to venture outside of the campus and really explore the most romantic city in the world. Once she gets past the issues that come from navigating a strange culture, Anna still has to deal with all of the issues that naturally come with being a teenager and dealing with high school. As a senior she is applying to colleges, but since it is her first year at SOAP, she is stuck taking beginning French with the freshmen. And of course, as with most YA novels, their is the required mean girl who decides to taunt and humiliate her for no real reason. One theme that came up the somewhat surprised me was the idea of the comfort zone and that, despite its name, it can sometimes get you into trouble if you're too hesitant to venture away from it.
My Verdict: Ugh, teenagers are the absolute worst. The only thing worse than teenagers is having to go to high school with them. This book is full of all of the reasons why people have wished there was mandatory homeschooling legislation, or at least college-prep courses that we could have started in middle school. And a high school that you also live in? Yikes. But even with all of the incredibly painful events Anna must live through, it didn't make me anxious when it came time to pick the book back up and continue reading. In fact, I couldn't put it down. The main characters are interesting, the side characters are interesting, this setting is Paris, and the school itself is intriguing enough without being made into a completely inaccessible novelty. YA readers will appreciate the foreign setting, unique circumstances, relateable characters, and all too familiar humiliations and miscommunication.
Favorite Moment: When Anna realizes that there are movie theaters all around the school that show movies in English, therefore allowing her to continue with her hobby.
Favorite Character: There was really no one character that I absolutely loved, but I will go ahead and pick Rashmi. She used to be the best friend of St. Clair's longtime girlfriend, but this was before Ellie graduated and basically ditched all of her old friends. But now she is dating Josh, keeping straight A's so she can get into Brown, while also keeping her friends in line when they act stupid or get into petty arguments. She can be rigid and standoffish, but ultimately, you want her on your side.
Recommended Reading: Pretty much anything by Sarah Dessen would suffice. But in the name of specificity, I will choose Along for the Ride, which also happens to be my personally favorite of the Dessen novels I have read.