For whatever reason, I have read two young adult novels this April about girls and their adventures in Paris. I don’t know why this happened but it makes it quite easy for me to write a list-style blog post about books in April, so that’s a win. I wanted to write about them today, to discuss which ones I prefer and their similarities and differences. Here we go. Please note that many spoilers will follow!
1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
According to Goodreads, Anna and the French Kiss is by far the most popular book of the two, with over 272,000 ratings. If I was up-to-date with popular YA novels I probably should have read this about five years ago, but I’m not, and I haven’t.
Here’s the synopsis for you. Anna has been sent to a school in Paris for a year by her father, who is described as being something along the lines of John Green but with a fake tan and less likable personality. For whatever vague reason, Anna isn’t happy about this arrangement, and presumably this is why she doesn’t learn a word of French before going.
Anna arrives in Paris and almost instantly forgets to be a reluctant protagonist. It is Paris, after all. She finds herself quickly drawn into a group of friends at said French school. This friendship group is surprisingly fleshed out character-wise, and their conversations are brimming with plentiful banter.
The YA Love Interest Dude makes himself known quickly. Etienne St. Clair is, I have to admit, a much more realistic character than you usually find in a young adult novel. He has a fear of heights, daddy issues and is saddled with the burden of having at least four girls attracted to him at any given time.
St. Clair is honestly a better character than Anna. Anna’s character isn’t developed as much as I would have liked; the book is made up of her having communication issues with people, her learning that Paris is cool, and her eventually starting a relationship with St. Clair.
I found it really easy to get into this book; it’s a light and fluffy read. I had a few issues with it however, including the plot relying too much on miscommunication between characters, Anna’s fear of looking like an American tourist, and her dating someone in the middle of the book to make St. Clair jealous, which was a cliche I didn’t think this book would stoop low enough to make. Having said that, Anna and the French Kiss was an enjoyable read that I would possibly read again, with plenty of great characters and some really engaging dialogue.
[ 4/5 cups ]
2. Just One Day by Gayle Forman.
This was definitely my favourite. While there were a few elements that I also noticed in AatFK (protagonist is reluctantly traveling in Europe, protagonist is American and judgemental of other American tourists and their ungodly white sneakers), Just One Day is far more my style. Here’s why.
The main character of Just One Day is a girl named Allyson. She’s in Europe on a tour for teens that her incredibly overbearing parents bought her, and on a whim she decides to stay an extra day. The whim is in the form of a mysterious Shakespeare performer called Willem approaching her, giving her a nickname and offering to take her to Paris for the day.
The following day is a magical experience for Allyson; she bonds with Willem who, while devoid of much personality, seems to see her as a person, which is something she doesn’t get much of at home. They meet intimidatingly sophisticated French people, go on a boat trip, and do many other magical Paris adventure-type things before settling down for the night. The story takes a turn for the worse when Allyson wakes up the next morning to find she has been abandoned by Willem. She panics and calls her tour guide who manages to help her get home. Allyson is heartbroken that the boy she has known for all of 24 hours would leave her.
Months later, she begins studying at medical school, which is what her parents want for her. However, she just isn’t feeling it. She’s horribly depressed (which her mother brushes off as her ‘sulking’) and can’t stop thinking about that one random Shakespeare guy. She also has absolutely no interest in medical school.
Here’s where the story got interesting for me. Allyson decides that enough is enough. She begins a quest. This starts with her standing up to her parents and taking courses she actually wants to study; she then begins to track down Willem while saving money to go back to France. She learns the language. She gets a job. She befriends the girls in her dorm, who up until then had been dismissed by her as annoying and over-enthusiastic. She even finds common ground with her mother.
Allyson’s motivation for traveling back to Paris is what makes me like this book. While she wants to see Willem again, the main reason she wants to return is because of how she felt as a person when she was there. Above all else, she is doing this for herself. She learns French for the sole reason of feeling independent when she’s in France. She is searching for the magical feeling that made that one day in Paris so special for her, which she realises was not just because a magical YA dream boy was escorting her.
While this book is a romance novel, Allyson’s development as a person is wonderful, and her focus is never entirely on Willem. She confronts a number of things that are troubling her, and she does them almost entirely alone. This book also gets points for LGBT+ representation. Mostly though I’m just impressed with how Just One Day puts Allyson before the romance; it’s something I wish I saw more of in YA fiction.