Have you felt, lately, that you can’t turn around without being faced with yet another YA paranormal romance? You aren’t alone. Seriously, I can’t seem to take two steps without knocking over a pile of them. And if it isn’t paranormal romance, then it’s historical romance or epic fantasy romance or dystopian romance or space opera romance or even issue-driven romance.

 

For more books about teen romance to knock your socks off, click here.

 

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What I haven’t been seeing—what I’ve been missing—is Just Plain Contemporary YA Romance*.

The genre, of course, is only part of the reason that I loved Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss (Dutton, December 2010) so very, very much. My other reasons are as follows:

1. A cursory glance at the book’s premise may suggest a spoiled brat—contrary to her wishes, a Georgia girl is shipped off to a Parisian boarding school—but Anna Oliphant is not a spoiled brat. Not even remotely.

She appreciates the idea of being in France, and she appreciates the opportunity it represents. What she doesn’t appreciate is this: Rather than finishing her high school career in familiar surroundings, with her best friends, a good job and a burgeoning romance, she has to start out all over again. She has to learn the ropes in an alien environment, all because her nouveau-rich father sees Daughter in Paris Boarding School as a box to tick on his Wealthy Status Symbol list.

2. Speaking of Mr. Oliphant, Anna’s father is, hilariously, a not-so-subtle poke at Nicholas Sparks**:

So he started writing these novels set in Small Town Georgia about folks with Good American Values who Fall in Love and then contract Life-Threatening Diseases and Die.

I’m serious.

And it totally depresses me, but the ladies eat it up. They love my father’s books and they love his cable-knit sweaters and they love his bleachy smile and orangey tan. And they have turned him into a bestseller and a total dick.

3. Anna’s voice is, while not particularly original, completely believable, and totally, instantly relatable. Reading her narration is a comfortable experience, even as she experiences discomfort after discomfort. The same goes for the plotting—it’s nothing new and quite predictable, even heavy-handed with the parallel storylines—but that predictability is part of what makes it such an charmingly enjoyable read.

4. Her friendships, both in the United States and France, up the comfort factor. The depictions of Anna’s varied and constantly changing relationships with the other characters are flat-out excellent. Getting to know both groups through Anna, picking up on ongoing arguments and figuring out inside jokes, feels especially real because the dialogue always, always rings true.

5. The romance itself. Étienne and Anna are real people, complete with strengths, flaws and fears. They make mistakes and sometimes they make bad choices. But it’s a joy to read about their journey toward each other, and I challenge you to read their Christmas Break exchange without falling in love. Whether it’s with one or both of them, or whether it’s with the idea of them falling in love, you’ll fall in love. It’s just plain adorable. So adorable that I’ve been caught blissfully hugging the book on more than one occasion. Literally.

Upon finishing the book, my first thought was, “NEED. MORE.” I’d love some recommendations. If you’ve got any, please do click on through to my blog and start flinging titles over. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

When she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.

 

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*What exactly do I mean by that? I’ll tell you: Stories in which the romantic relationship is the primary element, rather than secondary to the Other Stuff. And by Other Stuff, I’m including coming-of-age***.

**Who, let’s face it, has it coming.

***Example? Sarah Dessen. When I think Sarah Dessen, I think coming-of-age first, and romance second. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes, though, I just crave pure romance.