From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever. Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.
Stephanie Perkins’ first two books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, respectively, are two of my favourite contemporary romance young adult books – ever. Everything about what is encased in their pages – the setting, the characters, the atmosphere, the lessons they taught me and the feelings they sucked out of me – literally, it felt like – made me burst with love and heartache and everything in-between, because they were that amazing. When I finished both of them, there was nothing left that I expected these books to be. They were complete and utter perfection, and I don’t ever use those terms lightly. Now, colour me surprised when I finally, finally – after 3 years of waiting for Isla – got to read the whole book in one sitting, and found myself asking is this really it? I loved both Isla and Josh in their supporting roles in the previous books of the series, and I always expected them to become my favourite couple of the three. However, I quickly realized that what I loved about Anna and Etienne’s, and Lola and Cricket’s love stories, was non-existent in this Perkins endeavour.
Isla focuses on title character Isla Martin and the object of her infatuation, fellow student of the School of Americas in Paris, Joshua Wasserstein. During the summer holidays away from their privileged boarding school, Isla meets Josh in New York, and promptly embarrasses herself in front of him. When the two are reunited for fall term, they quickly find that they’re both ready to take their relationship to the next level after that fateful summer encounter put them on each other’s radars, so to speak. While the two get to know and try to spend every waking minute together, Josh, ever the artist, tries everything in his power to avoid school. When a trip to Barcelona between him and Isla has him shipped off to his Senator family and away from Isla, the separation the two must now face creates unforeseen problems and festering insecurities.
Now, there are two major aspects that made me give this three out of five stars. Firstly, unlike their friends, Isla and Josh fall in love and become a couple quite early on in the novel, and it’s not exactly a spoiler to say so. While I was initially okay with it I found the lack of development in their feelings unrealistic and eye-roll-inducing at best. Yes, the reader has been aware of Isla’s crush on Josh for quite some time, but to dismiss his relationship with Rashmi so completely felt off and out-of-place. I can believe that Josh liked Isla for a long time, but what I can’t believe is that his time with Rashmi meant nothing to him, and is supposed to convince me that Isla is his one and only. It felt too much like what I loved about both Isla and Josh in the previous books was cast aside to make this version of events possible. Both Anna and Lola were love stories, too, but they were never on the overly cheesy side of things, and they never felt oddly paced. With Isla, I felt thrown into the story that never stopped to breathe and make room for any connection between both Isla and Josh, and the characters and the reader. One might claim that Isla is a standalone work and shouldn’t necessarily be judged by comparing it to Anna/Lola, but I found it extremely difficult to separate the three. These stories are one entity for me, and Isla simply fell out of place, because it didn’t manage to tell the story in a real-time type of time frame. There was no time to connect because we had already been told what to feel early on, and that made for odd timing and lacking empathy within the writing, too.
The second major complaint that had me shaking my head on and off for the entire reading experience was the fact that yes, Perkins had incredible character possibilities in that book, but she failed to properly resolve them. The book felt like a manuscript that should’ve still had a couple of rounds of revision to go through. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Isla’s crush on Josh was something that I would’ve liked to have explored in a more realistic way, because it had so much potential. There’s a great scene in which Isla has to deal with several insecurities of hers at once, and realizes that she doesn’t know Josh at all. And while these two were together for a month before Josh moved back to the US, that was absolutely true. They had barely had time to actually get to know each other and their layers and faults, and I would’ve liked to have seen that aspect developed more properly. And there were so many instances like this where feelings and insecurities of characters were just pushed aside and forgotten, and considering Isla is a rather short and thin read, I would’ve expected them to be picked up later on for resolution’s sake. There was certainly enough room left for it. With Anna and Etienne (and Lola and Cricket) I was convinced they were going to get their happily-ever-afters together, but with Isla and Josh, I felt like the book and their story just settled for each other. There was so much potential for conflict resolution that would’ve made for an emotional roller coaster ride, but unfortunately, for me, I was left wanting more, and felt unsatisfied with the story.
The little cameos Anna, Etienne, Lola, Cricket and Meredith had did however make me tear up and Anna and Etienne’s story coming full circle so beautifully made me give three over two stars. A lot of readers and fellow reviewers have loved this book, so to everyone who has read and fallen head-over-heels in love with Anna and Lola’s stories, go ahead and lose yourself in this final instalment of the series. Don’t expect too much of an Anna because Isla has an entirely different structure and flow than its predecessors. Stephanie, I love you and I will continue to support your books in any way possible, but this one wasn’t for me. I’m happy it was for so many others however, and glad Isla and Josh had a chance to have their story told, too.