Anna Oliphant is on the cusp of her senior year, psyched for new experiences with her best friend Bridget and Topher, her cute-as-anything coworker at the local movie theater who she's almost-kinda-sorta-sure likes her. However, when her father, a wildly popular novelist (a la Nicholas Sparks) decides that she would benefit from a year abroad in France, Anna is not happy to be enrolled at SOAP, the School of America in Paris. However, her anxiety and homesickness soon disappear when she meets a group of friends, including the wonderful Etienne St. Clair. There's just one problem--he's taken, in a long-term relationship with Ellie, who graduated from SOAP the year before. However, as Anna slowly gets to know Etienne and the two help each other through respective crises, their friendship slowly flirts with romance and the two circle ever nearer to each other.
And the characters grow and change throughout the novel, a key element for me when reading YA fiction. There is a deliberate progression with Anna and Etienne from casual friends to best friends to "will they or won't they." The reader witnesses Anna growing more confident in herself and in the fact that she does belong in this new, foreign environment. We see Etienne faltering, then growing stronger with the support of his friends. Along with the relationship between Anna and Etienne, Stephanie Perkins provides a nice, three-dimensional cast of supporting characters. There's Meredith, Anna's best new female friend and next door neighbor, a tomboy who also has a crush on St. Clair. There's Rashmi and Josh, a boyfriend and girlfriend in a slightly tumultuous and fiery relationship. And there's Bridget, Anna's best friend from home who she feels herself growing slowly apart from.
Anna and the French Kiss was one of my absolute favorite reads of 2010, a sparkling, effervescent romance that made me yearn for a year abroad in Paris. Pull up a chair, grab a croissant and a cup of (real French) coffee, and fall in love.