Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Story Book Ending: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2014

Isla is the smartest person in her class, but feels like she only knows a few things for sure. One is that she has no idea what she wants to do with her future. The other is that she's had a hopeless crush on Josh Wasserstein for the last three years. Only after a chance encounter one summer night in Manhattan, maybe it's not so hopeless. When they return to Paris for their senior year in the fall, a romance blossoms faster than Isla ever could have hoped for, and falling in love is more wonderful and intense than she ever could have imagined. But the couple soon discovers that while their love comes easily, it also comes with challenges from their families, friends, and future plans. Will reality get in the way of Isla and Josh getting their happily ever after?

Where oh where to begin?! Stephanie Perkins delivers a heartfelt contemporary romance here that is a definite departure from her previous two books. While I live for the tension that comes with two characters coming together, this novel instead focuses on what happens next: the work of a relationship. For Isla and Josh, falling for each other is easy, but making things work is a whole other story. Perkins doesn't shy away from the challenges, instead she puts them front and center. School rules. Expectations from family and teachers. Wanting to spend all your time with that one special person, but needing to remember your friends who are just as important. It can be overwhelming, and sometimes Isla makes choices that made me cringe, but that's what growing up is all about. She's a girl with good intentions and a good head on her shoulders, so while she does make mistakes, she also learns from them, as does Josh.

Isla is a character I can see many readers identifying with. Applying to college undecided was something I have personal experience with and know how terrifying it can be. She has always played it safe, reading about adventures instead of having them herself. Josh makes her want to branch out, and yes, sometimes those risks end in disaster, but sometimes she also flies. One of my favorite things about Isla is her friendship with Kurt, her best friend since forever, and how they understand (and misunderstand) each other. The relationships with her sisters was also fantastic, especially that with little sister Hattie. Sure Isla is worried about how well does she really know Josh since they haven't really known each other that long, but she's known Hattie her entire life and finds that she doesn't know her so well, either.

And of course, there's Josh, the artist who tries to come off as indifferent and aloof, but is actually brilliant, talented, and cares far more than he ever lets on to most people. He and Isla at at their best when they are blunt and honest with each other (if not always with themselves). There's plenty to swoon about here, and I had butterflies more times than I can count while reading.

While each of Perkins's books can stand on their own, I do believe they work best if thought of as a series and read in order. Anna and the French Kiss starts things off, and I believe that Isla is most like a sequel to that one in that we meet Isla and Josh there, so you have a much stronger understanding of who they were before they were Isla-and-Josh. Timeline-wise, this novel is taking place at the same time as Lola and the Boy Next Door, but if you read this one first, there are major spoilers about the other two books.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I do have a few minor points to pick at. I absolutely loved the tension and build up especially in Anna but also present in Lola. Josh and Isla's relationship moves very fast in comparison. Part of me would have liked things to been a bit slower for the sake of wanting that build up but also just because I'm a "let's take things slow" kind of person. However, I know that for plenty of people, a relationship that jumps in full speed is realistic, perhaps more so than my notions.

All in all, I'm so sad that this collection is at an end, but I'm so happy that it's around. I know that I will enjoy rereading this whole set in the years to come. So thank you, Stephanie, for giving hopeless romantics and shy girls like me plenty of stories to fill our daydreams and making me believe that while my own happily ever after is taking his time showing up in my life, hopefully he's on his way.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

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