By the time I read Anna and the French Kiss, I was pretty much the last book blogger I knew to start Stephanie Perkin's adorable companion series, and at that time everyone was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Isla. Over the past two years I've slowly made my way through the series, savoring each book yet being disappointed that I hadn't quite found that magic that everyone else seems to see in them. I love the lush settings, the captivating characters, but the romances never made me feel for the couples, never made me swoon or ache in only the way teenage angty love can. So I was blindsided when I was completely and totally captivated by Isla and Josh, the final act in Perkins' series.
I wasn't expecting much more from this book than an enjoyable, fluffy summer read. Isla's story didn't grip me from the synopsis and I Josh didn't leave much of an impact on me when I read Anna. I was excited to return to SOAP and immerse myself in the french culture, but had little expectation of being invested in the romance, especially in the beginning when Isla's crush on Josh is so intense and so unrequited (though we've all been there, it's easy to be jaded about those feelings looking back on them from your 20's). Yet unlike Anna and Lola, where the novel is a slow burn of misunderstandings and tension, Isla and Josh begin their relationship fairly early on and drama free, and I became so immersed in watching their relationship grow and getting to experience the highs and lows of it with them. There's something so intimate and intense between them as a couple, two naturally shy and quiet people who bring out the brightness in each other. And though my high school dating drama is years and years behind me, Perkins' depictions of those specifically high school dating problems (the break-ups, the non-understanding parents, the ghosts of girlfriends past, etc.) were so spot on that I felt myself experiencing the rush of emotions all over again myself.
What always surprises me about Perkins' writing as well is the rawness in it. I always go in expecting "fluffy" but rediscover that she's not afraid to explore intimacy and pain to an extent in her plots. Josh and Isla's night in Spain, and their consequences, really evoked an empathy in me as a reader, and the pain in the aftermath felt genuine and raw. I was also stunned by Perkins' ability to translate Josh's art onto the page through her writing, making it so vivid that I could perfectly visualize his stunning drawings though I don't have a speck of drawing ability. The portrayal of Josh's graphic novel toward the end of the story, which chronicles events from the past three years and references several instances from Anna through his perspective, was a true testament to the brilliance of Perkins' writing ability. It was stunning, and I wish that one day it was a real companion graphic novel to this series.
The heart of this novel for me really lies in the chemistry between Josh and Isla. It's not the slow burn, witty banter, drama fueled chemistry of so many YA couples. It's the chemistry of two people who are so quietly attracted to each other, who's love for each other still burns bright despite their own flaws and immaturity. Sure, they bugged me at times, with Isla's massive insecurities and Josh's inability to commit academically, but I was consciously rooting for BOTH of them, which is how I know I was truly engaged in them as a couple.
Overall: Isla and the Happily Ever After was an adorable conclusion to the Anna and the French Kiss companion series, wrapping everything up across the three books as well as showcasing that Perkins can write different types of romantic relationships. It made me swoon, it made me ache, and most of all it made me at peace with all of the characters when I finished the final page. Isla is definitely my favorite of Perkins' love stories, and it's a series I'm sure I will revisit again and again.This review was originally posted on Girl in the Pages
- Started reading
- 22 June, 2016: Finished reading
- 22 June, 2016: Reviewed