Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins | Rating: ★★★★★
“I’m…getting there. I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s okay to be a blank canvas. Maybe it’s okay that my future is unknown. And maybe,” I say with another smile, “it’s okay to be inspired by the people who do know their future.”
Isla's story is the final installment in the Anna and the French Kiss series and I'm so sad to see it go. I've really grown attached to these couples and I'm still in the process of a major book hangover. That being said, Isla has all the charm of Anna and Lola, but feels a bit more sexy and angsty -- in all the right ways. Once again, we're back in Paris for the ending to this series. It's the perfect place to end it all because it's where it began for other characters.
We've glimpsed Isla in the first book but this story is her chance to shine through. Isla is a very different voice than Anna and Lola, but for me she is the one I see myself in most. She's very lost, she's very in love, she's very fun. There's a lack of self esteem in her that makes her easy to connect to. Although Anna's my favorite of the series, reading from Isla -- about her -- is a true gift; she certainly gives Anna a run or her money.
Seriously, she's just an interesting narrator. And there's something about her that makes me wan to wrap her up in a blanket, snuggle her and protect her from harm.
We're greeted with a few familiar faces throughout the story and familiar places. Past, present and future all tie together at the hands of Stephanie Perkins who once again shows us that she knows what she's doing. Towards the end of our story we have quite a few cameos -- Anna, St. Clair, Lola, Cricket and Meredith all pop by for a brief appearance, which is perfect. But most importantly, we learn more about Josh -- St. Clair's best friend, who is struggling with the fact that all his friends graduated the previous year. Josh is without his friends, without his ex-girlfriend, and looking more isolated than ever.
This time around, we get to learn more and more about Josh and of course, the romance he has with Isla. He and Isla make a beautiful couple -- they're the sort of love that happens fast and builds up on something from the distance. It's interesting to see his gift in art and we come to know that he is a lot brighter than we know. He slacks off, but he's incredibly intelligent. I love learning about him more, I love learning about Isla more. I love their ups and downs and I love the mutual support and love they have for one another.
Isla and Josh's story felt a bit more adult to me than the others; a lot more angsty and sexy. It comes around and knocks you down. They seemed to have fallen into one another accidentally but it couldn't feel more right. You see them become a couple very early on and that's when things get a little twisty. Oh, their story is just filled with angst -- after the two leave school for a little bit of time alone, without permission, they find themselves in a world of trouble and complications.
Hours after the two make love for the first time, Josh finds himself expelled and unable to talk with Isla as much as they both want. You can tell it's coming, but it still stings to see the two be apart so early on in their relationship. It's upsetting. It's truly heartbreaking and you feel both of their pain.
Now the two are at a distance from each other -- living in different countries with very little ways to communicate. Josh is in a lot of trouble, years of slacking off and ditching really comes to bite him in the ass. Their love grows and shrinks and complicates and expands. No matter the distance, no matter how little they can talk, you still feel their love for one another and maybe it's too much too soon, but they just seem right for each other.
Their breakup doesn't come out of nowhere but it still feels all wrong to see them apart. Isla's issues come and rear their ugly head, after a little build up, and she breaks up with him suddenly. This in part has to do with the graphic novel he made, and showed her, which contains explicit details of his past relationship. Isla's self esteem, her confidence, is completely shot and this is to be expected. You cry for both characters and when the time comes around, when Isla clears her head, it seems things may be over. Josh tried, at first, to convince her they could work out, but he's clearly hurting.
They are both hurting.
Small sparks in time go by -- Isla's social life seems to be on a weird pause. Her best friend, Kurt, is making new friends (she's still including, of course) and she attempts to mend the relationship she has with one of her sisters, the youngest, Hattie. Although Hattie rubs me the wrong way frequently, I am glad they set up so the two could be the sisters they need to be. And then Hattie does something unexpected, truly sweet, and reaches out to Josh for Isla.
She knew Isla needed Josh and I just... guh, it made up for some of the things I didn't like about Hattie.
When Josh and Isla meet again very soon, after Josh calls to tell Isla he is in Paris with some friends, we see that things are far from over. This is where Meredith, Anna, St. Clair, Cricket and Lola come in. Their cameos are short and sweet, but it was perfect to see them show up and their appearances just mesh well. They are an extraordinary group of people, and I hope that they remain in contact for ever.
St. Clair excuses himself and Anna, unexpectedly, and both Cricket and Josh seem to know what is about to happen. Lola and Isla share a bond in not understanding what is about to happen, but moments after the main couple leave, the rest of the group follows. St. Clair proposes to Anna and she accepts -- although they are both incredibly young, it comes as no shock. They are perfect for one another, as we've witnessed, and it's just a beautiful ending for this series. It sets the stage for romance and the happily ever after Isla has been hoping for.
Before she and Josh part, he gives her a revised copy of his graphic novel and tells her to read it and then call her when she's done. Later that night, she reads and reads, slipping away into this beautiful creation he's shown her. It's improved. It's Josh. Isla is a bigger fixture in this version and it's just so beautiful. I wish we could see it.
Upon finishing, Isla looks outside her window to see Josh wanting for her, a prediction he made in his story. Anna and St. Clair's happily ever after is more than she ever realized -- it was the start to her and Josh's, as well. It was beautiful, it's the start of something new and adventurous and there's no other way for this series to end. Each story is tied up beautifully but still remains full of possibilities. I'm sad to say goodbye to Anna, to St. Clair, to Meredith, to Lola, to Cricket, to Calliope (who breaks her curse!) to Josh and to Isla, but I can't dream of a better ending.
They all deserved the world. And together, they all found a home and the start of their own world.