REVIEW: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Dear Ms. Perkins:
Charming. Adorable. Sweet. Dramatic. Compelling. Each word can be used to describe your latest release, Isla and the Happily Ever After.
Isla Martin is high. She’s sitting in her favorite cafe in New York City, Kismet, spacing out when the object of all of her lust filled fantasies walks through the door — Joshua Wasserstein. She must be high, because what happens next is so completely out of character for her. She blurts out Josh’s name, calling him over to her table. She flirts, is coquettish, and in the end someone helpless. You see, Isla really is high. She’s had her wisdom teeth removed and is taking Vicodin, which explains her sudden gregariousness.
She’s spent her entire high school career lusting after Josh from afar. Josh is also a rising senior, is known to be a troublemaker, and is also the son of a prominent NY Senator. She’s spent the last three years watching Josh fall in love with someone else, break up with her and come back to school. The night they meet in Kismet, Josh walks her home and she doesn’t see him again. She’s mortified over her behavior and is dreading seeing him again when they return to their Parisian boarding school.
When Isla returns to school, she’s delighted to find that she’s actually in the dorm room that Josh had the year before. This is great for her for a number of reasons. First, it’s easily accessible, which means that her best friend, Kurt, who has a very high functioning form of autism can easily get to her room, and even more importantly in Isla’s mind, she’s sleeping in the same bed that Josh slept in. Josh routinely disappears from school, and is somewhat at loose ends. He is almost exclusively focused on his art, and doesn’t really want anything to do with being a student, which lands him in detention and on the radar of the faculty on a regular basis. This doesn’t stop Isla from loving him from afar. And when she finally has the opportunity, she apologizes for her behavior that night at Kismet. She and Josh strike up a friendship, occasionally going places together or sharing a meal. And still Isla pines from afar. When they finally admit their attraction and begin to fall in love, Isla finds herself doing things that are out of character. She is studying less, spending less time with Kurt, and making choices that she’s not sure her parents would approve of. When she opts to sneak away from Paris with Josh for the weekend, she’s scandalized by doing something illicit, yet so delighted to have Josh all to herself. Of course, they get caught, and the consequences are dire. Josh is expelled and sent back to America, while Isla pines for him from school. Will their relationship be able to handle long distance and the vigor of Josh’s father’s campaign and Isla’s determination to finish school?
This book is ridiculously sweet. It captures all of the things about teen love that I remember fondly: loving from afar, the intensity of teenage love affairs, the passion of the anger, the drama. Isla is a wonderfully complex character, with smarts and insecurities and charm. Josh is a dreamboat of a boy, full of rebellion and art and moods. They have a wonderful chemistry and their relationship doesn’t shoot off like a gun, it’s a charming slow build that captures all of the things I remember with affection about being a teenager (and living with one now). On top of that, beloved past characters return, and the secondary characters, like Isla’s sisters and Kurt are vividly drawn. Plus, Paris is lovingly described, evoking the mystery and amour in every word. I’m as besotted by this book as I was with Anna and the French Kiss, the first in the series. I can’t possibly recommend it enough. Final grade: A.