A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Isla and the Happily Ever After is the third and final installment in Stephanie Perkins' best-selling Anna and the French Kiss trilogy of companion novels. It will definitely appeal to teen girls familiar with Anna and Lola and the Boy Next Door, but new readers can still figure out what's happening. As in the previous two books, this is about a passionate romance between two seniors in high school. The love story can get pretty intense and has more sex than the previous two installments combined, but the scenes are described in a responsible, emotional manner. Readers will once again get to know Paris but also New York City and Barcelona, and there are references to famous works of art, graphic novels, and architectural landmarks. Strong language (including "f--k," "a--hole," and "bitch") is used but isn't excessive.
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What's the story?
ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, the much-anticipated final book in the Anna and the French Kiss trilogy, takes place in the same time period as Lola and the Boy Next Door but returns the focus to the American boarding school in Paris where Anna and Etienne met. One evening during the summer before senior year, Josh, Etienne's best friend who still had a year left of high school, reconnects with classmate Isla at a Manhattan diner. They talk and flirt but don't see each other again until they return to Paris for school. Isla has had a crush on the always-drawing Josh since freshman year, so, when he finally asks her out, their relationship skips a lot of the early stages and goes straight into overdrive. But angsty Josh, a politician's son, is on final warning with the dean, so his post-detention adventures with Isla have unintended consequences that put their intense one-month relationship at risk.
Is it any good?
Perkins is extremely adept at describing adolescent romance, expressing the profound way in which attraction and desire can overpower and overwhelm the senses. Her swoon-worthy first two novels came out less than a year apart in 2010 and 2011, but, due to the author's self-acknowledged depression, fans had to wait nearly three years for the last book to get published. The wait is finally over, and Perkins' third protagonist, Isla, doesn't fall in love after months of platonic friendship like Anna did or reconnect with a childhood crush like Lola did but rather immediately after years of unrequited longing. Isla has always wanted Josh, and now that Josh is finally single (he had a serious girlfriend all through junior year), everything comes together rather perfectly at first -- until Josh's risk-taking and broody family life (and Isla's crippling insecurities) get in the way.
It's no surprise that Perkins saved the steamiest romance for this final book. But there's something to be said for the slow burn from friends-to-more that formed the basis of her first two literary couples. This time, the passion has to be intense, because the conversational banter and buildup of romantic chemistry is replaced by the BOOM of crackling instant love. In other words, this is definitely more of a make-out book than the previous two. Isla and Josh have an undeniable connection and memorable adventures through Europe and New York, but, when the other two couples finally make an appearance, it's obvious they won't knock Anna and Etienne or Lola and Cricket off as Perkins' best couple.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the growing trend of companion novels; how are they different from serialized series? Do you like the way companion novels switch protagonists from the same universe, or do you prefer regular sequels? What are some other notable companion novels?
For those who have read Perkins' other books, did you like the crossover appearances by Anna and St. Clair? Which book do you prefer? How does each couple embody a different "type" of love story?
What do you think of Perkins' description of teen sexuality? Do you think it's realistic? How does Isla and Josh's relationship compare to that of the other two couples?
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