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.
I bought this in hardcover the day it came out, and I’ve been terrified to open it. I loved ANNA and LOLA *so* *much* that I’ve been dreading disappointment.
(Funny how we psych ourselves out of the good things, isn’t it?)
Wonderful review! I couldn’t agree more. I absolutely adored this book. I ended up loving it even more than Anna and the French Kiss which is saying something because that was the book that reintroduced me to YA as an adult.
I don’t read YA, but this review almost tempts me to try. If my TBR pile weren’t so large, I might. Something about your description here reminds me of that 90s show Felicity (which I loved, mostly because Scott Speedman was so darn cute). I might recommend it to my young teen daughter and her friends, but am wondering if it contains explicit love scenes. Thanks!
I didn’t love it, but until I reread I won’t be able to usefully say why. It might well be the expectation thing – when you’ve been waiting for a book a long time, it’s never quite what you imagined. (And then, sometimes, the second read is actually better than the first.)
@jamie – I can’t remember anything particularly explicit, but I wasn’t reading it parentally. I think I’d recommend they started with ‘Anna…’ anyway, because if they enjoy the books, it’s nice to read them in order. (I gave my teenager-at-the-time ‘Anna’ and she really enjoyed it, but wasn’t tempted to read the next two.)
I have Anna and the French Kiss on my TBR. One day….
@Kati – this one has a happy ending? are the characters apart/out of contact for a long time?
@Kaetrin: Yes, a delightful HEA. I found the ending very satisfying.
@jamie beck: I don’t think the love scenes are explicit, although they DO have sex. So if that’s not something you want to expose your daughter to, probably best to give this one a pass.
I loved this book. I loved her others. I know several people who felt a little disappointed by it, and my theory is that it’s a bit more about Isla than it is about the relationship between Josh and Isla. I mean, YA is known for coming-of-age stories, and Anna and Lola both contained coming of age themes, but Isla’s coming of age is a huge part of the story, so huge that I think it nudges aside the romance plot a bit. Not that the romance is lacking (not in my opinion). Isla struggles with feeling she has no identity. That’s something that takes a while to resolve.
I also know that Perkins needed to take extra time to write this novel after writing Lola. She wrote a really good blog post about it, and I can’t help but see some of the things has said she struggles with in real life show up in these pages. That added a really personal feeling to the book, and I also identify with those struggles.
For anyone interested, I actually wrote about Isla on my blog: http://theplotless.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/megan-reviews-books-she-read-while-procrastinating-writing-her-wip/
@Kati: yay! thx :)
So I opened ISLA this morning, and just finished after a daylong inhale.
Is it as sweet and joyful as ANNA and LOLA? No, I don’t think so, and don’t think it will become a comfort read in the same way.
But in many ways I think it was a *better* book. Like Megan says, it’s more of a story about Isla than about Isla-and-Josh. Her feelings of being unloveable, of being replaceable, a nobody, are so raw and real and painful that it was almost physically painful more me to read. Yet at the same time, my empathetic suffering and yearning for her to learn to love herself was far more viscerally powerful than my rooting for the love story between the lead couple in this story — or the two previous, for that matter.
Although I’ll confess to enjoying the cameos, and a totally sappy sigh of happiness at a certain scene in front of Notre-Dame … (you know the one)