Isla and the Happily Ever After was one of my highly anticipated releases for this year since I really enjoyed reading both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. Those titles are quite a mouthful, aren’t they? I kept seeing other bloggers post pictures of their review copies of Isla and this just made me want to read the book more. Also, I’m still bummed that Stephanie Perkins visited Manila and I wasn’t able to attend the event (so many authors have visited the Philippines since I moved to Singapore). I was so excited when I finally got a copy of Isla so of course, I read it as soon as I could.
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.
I really enjoyed reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and I think I like it just as much or maybe even a bit more than Anna and the French Kiss. Isla and Josh are both great characters. I liked how there’s so much more to them that what was previously shown in the first book. I found it interesting that Isla is named after an island because “isla” is the Filipino word for island (pronounced is-lah instead of eye-lah though). I always think it’s awesome when of the characters in the book I’m reading is a reader herself. I could understand Isla’s thirst for adventure and how she satisfies that thirst by reading books. Also, how cute is it that Isla and Josh bonded over Joann Sfar? They made me want to read his graphic novels even though I’m not much of a graphic novel reader. I could really relate to Isla and her insecurities about not having a clue about what she wants to do in terms of her career – heck, I’m a decade older than her and I’m still figuring things out. I could also understand how she’s so forgiving of others but so hard on herself, to the point where she questions whether she’s worthy of being loved. I loved her friendship with Kurt and how she had to learn how to balance having a guy best friend with having a boyfriend. On a counterpoint to Isla’s ambiguity, Josh is very passionate about his art and he knows that he wants to pursue a degree that would enable him to focus on this field. My artistic talent is limited to stick figures so I’m always in awe of artists. I enjoyed reading about Josh and his art and would have loved to see samples of them if that was possible.
Isla and the Happily Ever After is partially set in New York, Paris and Barcelona. I’ve never been to New York so I can’t really say anything about the scenes set there. But having read Laura Florand’s vivid and detailed descriptions of Paris, I feel like Stephanie Perkins’ imagery pales in comparison. Isla mentions that she’s comfortable enough in Paris for it to feel like home but I don’t think she was able to portray that in a believable way. I did love the Barcelona scenes since they were from the perspective of tourists, with both Josh and Isla visiting the city for the first time. It reminded me of my own trip there earlier this year because we visited the same tourist spots, mostly the sites of Gaudi’s work.
I think Stephanie Perkins excels in portraying realistic teenage romance. She gets how awkward it is to have a serious crush on someone. And how tentative things are at the start when the two parties realize that what they feel might be mutual and there’s just all this tension between Isla and Josh. Then it transforms into a new-found relationship that makes both of them giddy with happiness. Even the issues that they they had to deal with felt authentic. I was really rooting for them and the way they changed and matured throughout the course of the novel was satisfying. I had so much fun reading this book and would recommend it to any fan of YA contemporary.