Or, in other words, the story of my life. Since I got a full-time job, I don’t really come home after staring at a computer for eight hours and feel like staring at a computer screen for two more while I try to make a daily word count. Instead I read. Copiously. Insanely. As of August 15th, I’d read 150 books this year. While I love that I’ve read so much, both my word count on my WIP and my wallet have suffered.
Something good ought to come out my procrastination, so I’d like to do occasional book reviews/recommendations. I’ll mostly focus on the positive and only do reviews for books I loved. Plus, I imagine that I’ll tell you far more about my personal life and psyche than anyone really wants to know. What a treat! (No really. I’m super good at making fun of myself).
Without further ado:
Isla and the Happily Ever After
The last of the trilogy, I&HEA is a gem of a novel that follows Isla and Josh (previously introduced in the first book, Anna and the French Kiss) as they go through their senior year at an American school in Paris.
Rather than summarize the plot (you can easily find that on Goodreads), I want to give an aspiring writer’s perspective. When I read the first novel of the trilogy (all featuring a different hero and heroine), Perkins’s debut, I was…swept away. Honestly. I’ve always loved romances, and I love YA, but this book went beyond genre for me. Perkins so effortlessly put me back into high school–but not the sucky parts of being a teenager (at least, not only those), but the best parts. The magic of new places, the hope you find in your dreams of the future, the elation and heartbreak of crushes and cute boys and their amazing hair and even more amazing accents. As a reader, I was practically salivating at the story. But as a writer? As a writer I wondered how on earth Perkins managed to do that to me. I won’t say the story was unoriginal, because I think originality is kind of a red herring in discussions of quality. But at the same time, it’s a young adult romance novel. Certain elements are expected. And they were present. So what exactly did Perkins do to take this beyond cute and satisfying to OH MY GOSH WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK to picking up the book a week after finishing it the first time and diving in for a second read?
It’s something that I think about a lot. Beyond the craft of writing there is the art of writing, and hopefully at the art of writing you’ll find the heart of writing. I read books that are technically proficient; mature sounding voice, excellent pacing, great plot, rounded characters, and I’ll walk away from it pleased–but then it’s easily forgotten once I read a few more books. But books that have a bit of the writer’s heart and soul in them, those stick with me. Stephanie Perkins’s books are like that.
I’d recommend reading the first books in the trilogy before you get to this title. They’re wonderful, but Perkins strays beyond the normal unfolding of a romance plot (they meet, conflict, first date, conflict, first kiss, conflict, etc.) and develops the love between the hero and heroine rather quickly. What follows is a conflict that turns this from sweet love story to relatable coming of age story. Yes, the others in the trilogy were also coming of age stories. What YA book isn’t? But Isla’s identity crisis feels both authentic and moving and brave. After Perkins’s blog post about moving I&HEA’s pub date back due to mental health reasons, I can’t help but read a little of the author into Isla’s fear of the future and fear of not being good at anything. Whether that’s true or not, I find it both inspiring and brave and it makes me see myself in Isla as I read. I wanted to reach into the pages and pluck that girl up right into a tight hug because I’VE BEEN THERE. I’VE FELT THAT. You can’t judge Isla for pushing away Josh when you know exactly what made her do it–because you’ve done it too. The emotional heft of this book has left me in a state of funk for a week, just thinking about it.
I know that this kind of relatable angst isn’t for some people, but a book can’t please everyone. I’d so rather see books that wear their hearts on their sleeves than books that feel like they’re simply going through the motions.
I’d recommend this book to…everyone. Okay, probably not. I’d recommend this book to anyone that likes contemporary YA or a good romance. I’d recommend this book to fans of graphic memoirs (Josh is working on his own graphic memoir) or to girls who think about the future and feel a little lost. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has loved someone with high-functioning autism (like Isla’s best friend, Kurt) or to people whose parents expect more of them than they can/want to give.
Like I said, this novel has heart.