Friday, January 16, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

And here we are for the third and final book in the Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins. I first took notice of the series when I saw that Isla and the Happily Ever After was nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. Although it did not win, scouring the list of nominations isn't a bad way to potentially find my next favorite book, so I gave this series a shot.

The Situation: Isla has just had her wisdom teeth removed and can only eat soft foods. She finds herself at a cafe not too far from her home in New York City when she spots Josh, a fellow student at the School of America in Paris, or SOAP. Both Isla and Josh will be seniors this year, and while she will be returning with her best friend Kurt, who is now a junior, she can't help but take mental note that Josh will be returning without his now ex-girlfriend Rashmi, who graduated last year. Isla has always been well aware of Josh's relationship status, since she has had a crush on him since their freshman year. And now, the shy and usually reserved Isla finds herself calling out to the boy of her dreams the summer before they are to return to school, and she is only mildly aware that she is somewhat drugged up on painkillers and may be making a complete fool herself. Even so, the conversation she is having with him right now is real, and she hopes it will only lead to more.

The Problem: While Rashmi is definitely in the past and no longer an issue, Josh's lax attitude towards his classes and his attendance still remains - an attitude that was a major point of contention between him and Rashmi. When he isn't using Jewish holidays that he doesn't even celebrate to his advantage and a way to miss school, he is leaving the country on weekends on many adventures, hoping to not get caught. Isla has the highest grades in her class, and is usually big on following the rules. It also doesn't help that her little sister, Hattie, is a freshman at SOAP this year and has no problem giving Isla a hard time. So when it becomes clear that Josh likes her back and they are beginning to have some sort of dating relationship, true love may not be enough to keep them together if Josh can't stay out of trouble and, even worse, takes Isla down with him. Plus, while Isla knew all about Rashmi and his life before her, she's not sure if her own insecurities will let her overcome his past. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that takes place in a variety of cities. The story starts off in New York City, where both Isla and Josh's families live. But of course, like Anna and St. Clair in the first book, both of them attend SOAP in Paris during the school year. But there are trips back home to New York, and even one side trip to Spain for a night, despite leaving the country being against the rules during the school year. Just like with Lola and the French Kiss, characters from the previous books make a brief appearance. In fact, even Meredith shows up along with Lola and Cricket. And because the story takes place during the year of the Winter Olympics, there is some talk about Cricket's twin sister Calliope and her figure skating. While Anna had to deal with St. Clair having a girlfriend at the beginning of their senior year, and Lola had to deal with the past heartbreak she had experienced from Cricket, Isla's issue is that she has been hung up on Josh since freshman year, and now she isn't sure she is worthy of him. It doesn't take a whole lot for jealousy and insecurity to put a damper on any relationship, now matter how much the two people supposedly love each other. Isla and the Happily Ever After is another study in the complexity of teenage relationships made even more complicated by miscommunication and other teenagers.

My Verdict: While it is nice to come to the end of the series and get some closure not only on Isla's story, but also Anna's and Lola's, this last book still left me somewhat disappointed. For whatever reason, I expected to like Isla more than I did. And while she was much more likeable than Lola, there were still glimpses into her personality that left me excited for the awful and inevitable reality check she most certainly had coming. Maybe it was her insecurities coming through, or maybe it was Josh's relaxed attitude towards everything, despite him being a smart guy with plenty of potential, but I don't think I would want to be friends with these two in real life. However, I will say that Isla has a certain honesty about her that her two predecessors did not have. Although, her admissions that you have to come from money to attend SOAP, and that a lot of the kids there have never worked a day in their lives, didn't really help me feel like I could relate to them. Also, while the setting returned to Paris with a few trips to New York, the adventures around Paris just didn't have the same novelty about them that they did in the first book, but that may be because, unlike Anna, Isla was already familiar with the city, so explanation about the city was less necessary. 

Favorite Moment: When Isla reconnects briefly with an old friend and the younger sister of Rashmi, Sanjita. Their brief conversation helps Isla realize that she isn't as clueless about her own future and what she wants as she thought.

Favorite Character: Kurt is Isla's best friend who has very high-functioning Autism. He may be hard to talk to sometimes, even for Isla, who has known him her entire life and knows exactly how he operates, but he is a devoted friend who will speak the truth, whether or not Isla cares to hear it.

Recommended Reading: Of course I pick Lola and the Boy Next Door. While all three books could potentially stand on their own, they are definitely better when read as a series. 

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