Title: Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Rating: 5 Stars
Sometimes, you can just feel when a novel is about to change your life. Isla changed mine.
Stephanie Perkins knows the deepest corners of my heart; the spaces where the darkest secrets and most tragic insecurities lie. In Anna, Lola, Isla--in them she painstakingly reveals, piece-by-piece, the fears I hesitate to lay before even those most beloved to me. But, in doing so, she reminds me that I am not alone in my swirling thoughts. To sit down and curl up with a Stephanie Perkins romance is to lose yourself in the flesh-and-blood ideal that you are human; you belong on this Earth. You, with your quirks and flaws and bad parts, are not an anomaly.
In comparison to Anna and Lola, both which read--from the surface--to be "just another" contemporary romance with a blossoming love story, indomitable hurdle, and all-too-happy reconciliation, Isla is intense, explosive, and--dare I say it?--sensual. It feels distinctly foreign from any brand of American romance, merely because it is such a tangle of limbs, mess of hearts, and all-round love affair. What Isla and Josh share is far more than a simple love affair but the pacing, the sensation, the hit-you-in-the-feels emotions...surely nothing but the movies can feel this way? But Stephanie Perkins not only forces you to believe it on paper, she makes you believe it in life too. I want a romance like Isla and Josh; passionate, understanding, and messy. Forget Anna and St. Clair, Lola and Cricket, because Isla and Josh are the love story I never even knew I craved.
Like I said, this woman knows my heart better than I do.
For readers, Isla will most likely surprise, not because of its protagonist, but rather because Josh comes alive in a manner we never knew possible until this tale. We imagine we know him through Anna's lens but, in truth, it's such a tiny facet of the person he truly is. What I love most about Josh, beyond his encompassing, incredible artistic talent, is the fact that he is far removed from the ideal boyfriend. Not only is he on the verge of being expelled from high school but he treats those threats with disdain, ignoring high school for he believes he has found his true calling. On paper, I wouldn't want to know Josh, let alone date him, but through Isla's eyes we grow to see him as more than the qualities which define him.
Yet, for me, Isla remains the soul of this novel. Whether it be her insecurities, her strengths, her weaknesses, her mistakes; I understood her. I felt connected with Anna, likely because of her initial out-of-body experience in arriving to Paris and, later, because it's simply impossible not to root for her. With Isla, though, I felt a kindred spirit. I'm not petite or pale or ginger. I don't share Isla's physical appearance and, even mentally, I am not nearly as introverted or painfully frightened as she is. But I used to be. And, even now, I sympathized with Isla's struggle to break out of her bubble. Even now, I feel scared about my unknown future and the adventures college may bring--but like Isla, I'm more excited than scared. I lose myself in a book. I use studying as a coping method to forget about the difficulties in my life. I typically have nothing but time on my hands to devote to school work that when I do decide to pursue an endeavor solely for myself or take time to meet a friend it shows in a slight drop in my GPA and the unfairness of life hits me all over again. So many lines in this novel felt as if they were straight out of my head that I could scarcely believe it. Isla, in many ways, chronicles my own journey of growth, albeit in a far more romantic way (isn't that always the case, though?).
Moreover, Isla is the romance novel I've been clamoring for; the one which explores the hurdles in making a relationship work. With Isla not only must Isla come to terms with the tight friend circle Josh shares outside of the school they both attend but Josh, too, must learn how to ingratiate himself into Isla's already-established lifestyle and friendships. It's a dance, in so many ways, finding that perfect space where real life, friendship, and romance can all exist as one and, as Perkins writes it, it isn't easy. Not in the least.
I could go on about Isla for ages and, likely, still be unable to reveal anything concrete about the story without spoiling the tale for you. It's passion. It's adolescence. It's growth.
It's Stephanie Perkins. Of course it's goddamn perfect.
You can read my review for Lola and the Boy Next Door here.