Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Rachel Rambles About Isla and the Happily Ever After
From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.
Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.
Warning: There are no spoilers for Isla and the Happily Ever After in this ramble, but I compare it to Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door quite a bit, so if you haven't read those, I recommend staying away. And also you should read them because SERIOUSLY WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
You all know how much I love Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, right? RIGHT?! Well, just as a reminder...I'm obsessed with them! ANNA and LOLA have been two of my all-time favorite books ever since I read them a few years ago, and I've been eagerly anticipating Isla and the Happily Ever After for what feels like FOREVER. Needless to say, I had ridiculously high expectations for Isla and the Happily Ever After, and I am thrilled to report that Stephanie Perkins did not disappoint one bit.
Isla and the Happily Ever After is a story that stands completely on its own, meaning that you don't have to read ANNA or LOLA to appreciate it. This book is not cluttered with references to the other books, although it does focus on two characters who were introduced in ANNA. You could totally read Isla and the Happily Ever After without knowing anything about the stories of Anna and Lola, which is really awesome. I'm glad Isla and Josh have their own story, because I think it would have been easy for Stephanie Perkins to put in so many references to her other beloved characters that Isla and Josh would be overshadowed. But that doesn't mean the characters from ANNA and LOLA don't make cameos in ISLA, because THEY SO DO. Anna, Lola, St. Clair, and Cricket all pop into the story and it's WONDERFUL. I think fans of the previous two books will be satisfied with the cameos, and if you're anything like me, you'll be squealing with excitement when their names pop up on the page.
I also love the settings in Isla and the Happily Ever After. Half of the book takes place in Paris at the school Isla and Josh attend, while the other half takes place in New York City, where Isla and Josh live. Both cities are charming and magical and rich, and Stephanie Perkins writes about them in such a way that makes the reader want to live there, or better yet, makes the reader believe he or she already does live there. I love the way these cities play into the theme of identity surrounding Isla and her indecision over what to do after high school because she feels torn between two places she calls "home."
While Anna and Lola both have very strong senses of who they are, Isla is a little more confused. She does not have their confidence or their specific goals and dreams. Isla struggles with insecurity and trying to figure out what she likes and is good at, and I really enjoyed reading about her character's journey throughout the book. I love that Stephanie Perkins portrays this extremely common case of identity struggle in Isla and the Happily Ever After. Isla's problems are ones that many teenagers can relate to, and I appreciate the honesty behind Isla's indecision and cluelessness about what comes next for her.
As usual, Stephanie Perkins also writes about a complex and fascinating group of secondary characters. Isla's best friend, Kurt, is a character whose voice isn't heard from often enough in Young Adult literature, and the messy friendship between Isla and Kurt feels raw and realistic. Isla's sisters, specifically Hattie, also receive a lot of character development despite the fact that they don't have all that much "screen-time" in the story.
I love that the romantic relationship in Isla and the Happily Ever After goes in a different direction than the romantic relationships in ANNA and LOLA. The conflicts in ANNA and LOLA come from the characters' inability to just realize they love each other and get together already! but the conflict in Isla comes from external forces in the relationship. Isla and Josh get their crap together pretty early on, and they don't spend too much time playing the does-he-like-me-should-we-get-together-I-don't-know-what-to-do game, which is super refreshing, but it also means that other things have to happen in their relationship in order for there to be conflict. I really like that the conflict comes from unexpected places in this book. It's a nice change from ANNA and LOLA.
Another difference between Isla and the Happily Ever After and its predecessors is that the romantic relationship in ISLA is at a different stage than the ones in ANNA and LOLA. The other books are all about the couple trying to get together, and everything in the story leads up to "the big kiss," but in ISLA, readers get to see the relationship progress beyond that. This means that ISLA has the steamiest and most abundant make-out scenes of all the books. :D
Finally, let's discuss Josh. I thought he was an intriguing character when he was introduced in Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with him in Isla and the Happily Ever After. He has the whole tortured-artist vibe going on, and his classmates view him as a kind of slacker/goofball, but he is actually incredibly intelligent, talented, and charming. There is a lot going on with him, and he just feels like a totally realistic teenage boy. Also, everything about the graphic novel is AWESOME and I'm happy it plays such a big role in the story.
So those are just some of my super intense and passionate feelings about Isla and the Happily Ever After. I think my favorite of these three companion books is still Anna and the French Kiss, because Anna and St. Clair will always occupy a special place in my heart, but I'm not sure I can pick a favorite between LOLA and ISLA just yet. (LOLA has an unfair advantage right now seeing as I've read it like eight times more than I've read ISLA, so I'm trying to be as unbiased as possible.) If you loved Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, there is no doubt in my mind that you'll love Isla and the Happily Ever After.