Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins

I just finished Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After, and need to wipe a tear or two from my face as I type. I loved this book! It tugs at every emotion humans can feel. I don’t know how I can possibly do it credit with my much more meager writing skills.

Isla is the third book in a connected trilogy. Each book follows a different couple, but in one way or another the couples are inter-connected. When I finished reading Anna and the French Kiss, I was afraid to read the next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door, because I knew it would be a let down after the joy that was Anna. Boy, was I wrong! I may have loved Lola even more. But Stephanie Perkins saved the best for last. Isla was more than worth the wait. <wipes tears>

Main characters, Isla and Josh, who were introduced as minor characters in Anna, attend the School of America in Paris (SOAP). Juniors during Anna, we knew that Isla was crushing on Josh, who was involved in a PDA-filled relationship with a fellow student that just about ripped out Isla’s heart. Now, a year later, Josh is free and Isla’s crush has hit an all time high after a late summer serendipitous meeting back home in New York. Their sweet, poignant relationship with its highs and lows is the story of Isla and the Happily Ever After. It is filled with insecurities, fears, moments of pure joy, and the newfound ability to take risks. Of the three books, Isla shows the main characters go through the most growth, as they come to know themselves and their place in the world.

Obviously, I read a lot of YA. There are different authors I love for their various talents that shine in their books. But I can’t think of anyone who more fully develops characters than Stephanie Perkins. As I read any of her books, but especially this one, I come to feel like I actually know the characters, care about them, and boy do I root for them. I become a senior in a high school in Paris with a heart-wrenching crush on an adorable, talented guy. I’m right there with Isla as she finally navigates the waters of a long wished for relationship with the boy she’s been in love with for three years. Perkins is a master at tugging those heartstrings.

Some of that heartstring tugging comes in a subplot involving Isla’s relationship with her younger, and ever annoying, sister Hattie. I don’t know if I cried more over the Josh/Isla moments, or one particular Hattie/Isla moment, but I challenge anyone with a sibling to get through that scene dry eyed! And Isla’s relationship with her best friend since babyhood, Kurt, is a reason all by itself to love this book.

I discovered Stephanie Perkins the way I’ve discovered several of my favorite YA authors: I saw her at two Portland events. First, I saw her at LeakyCon2013, where I fell in love with her before I even knew she was someone! Dressed like she could be a Disney character, (cutest outfit ever!) I saw her charming a small group of people, and then heard her speak on a panel. A few months later she was at Portland’s Wordstock with her adorable husband on her arm and she impressed me again as she participated on a YA panel. I knew then that I had to read everything she had ever written. She hasn’t let me down.

If you love love, exotic romantic places like Paris and Barcelona, and tales of friendship and longing, you will love Isla and the Happily Ever After.

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