Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterFirst of all, I will clear up the burning mystery of this book, the answer to the question that everyone is asking: it’s pronounced EYE-la. Stephanie Perkins establishes that on page two. What a relief! Now we can move on to the story.

Isla just had her wisdom teeth out at home in New York the summer between her junior and senior years, and she’s under the influence of painkillers when she sees her long-term crush, Josh, at a favorite café. In a cringe-worthy scene, Isla gets the courage to speak to him, something that she would never do in her normal state of mind. The next day, she broods over the episode with her best friend, Kurt, an autistic young man one year behind her in school. They decide to return to the café the next day to see if Josh comes back to see her, but he doesn’t. Nor does he return the next day or the next.

Crushed, Isla arrives back at her exclusive prep school in Paris for her senior year, but Josh is only there infrequently. However, it begins to look as if he is truly interested in her! Could it be?

No one writes a sweeter teen romance than Stephanie Perkins. Readers will be glad to see all of the main characters from her previous novels, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, reappear in minor roles in this new work. I was surprised that the usual romance arc seemed to be all wrapped up early in the action, but of course, true love has to have some tragedy and misunderstanding for readers to be able to agonize over Isla and Josh’s relationship, so that we can really appreciate the satisfying conclusion.

If I had a quibble with the book, it would be the treatment of Kurt’s character. Perkins seems to expect the reader to assume that he is not available for any other role than Isla’s sexually-neutral buddy. This is a sort of cardboard slot often occupied by the gay sidekick, as in Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series, for one example. On the other hand, I kept on dreading the equally artificial plot twist in which Isla rejects Josh and suddenly realizes that she’s been madly in love with Kurt (or he with her) all along. Kurt’s character is fleshed out a bit, but I was somewhat offended by the assumptions inherent in his portrayal.

Otherwise, Perkins’ usual interesting characters carry the story. Her heroes and heroines have pursuits of their own and lead independent lives, so they are not pathetically dependent upon one another. Neither Isla nor Josh is perfect, although Josh’s broody rebellion is often more attractive than Isla’s driven perfection. Isla overthinks everything, and since Josh is an artist, the reader is never sure if he will be able to bear the emotional strain.

I can happily recommend all of Stephanie Perkins’ novels to teens and adults who enjoy a fun, well-written love story. All of the books contain non-graphic sex scenes. Particularly recommended for Francophiles.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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