Warning: this article contains spoilers for Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
Let’s admit it: everyone enjoys a trashy novel from time to time. Trashy novels aren’t technically bad, but they’re not exactly good, either. They’re just the books you turn to when you need a cute, fluffy romance to read on the beach.
One of the first trashy novels that comes to my mind is Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, published in 2010. Although it was published almost eight years ago, it still has hype surrounding it; I just read it for the first time this year after hearing nothing but great things about it.
Anna and the French Kiss tells the story of Anna Oliphant, who is attending an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. She bonds quickly with Étienne St. Clair, an American boy with a British accent who is incredibly sweet and endearing. They fall in love. Charming, right?
Wrong. On the surface, Étienne may seem like a “dream boy,” but once you get past the attractive exterior, there’s not much to like about him. What mainly bothers me about him is the fact that he is falling in love with Anna, while he still has a girlfriend.
Now, I’ll admit, I did like this book when I first read it. On my Goodreads, I even gave it four stars. I was blinded by the pure charm and beauty of Etienne. But once I began to dive into the problematic elements of this book, the less I liked it.
This novel basically promotes emotional cheating. Perkins wrote this book as directed toward a young audience; there are probably people around ages 12-18 reading her work. She is basically letting a large group of teenagers know that it’s okay to cheat on your significant other, as long as you love the person you’re cheating on them with.
Although Etienne never physically cheated on his girlfriend, he flirted with Anna for months. There were obvious feelings there that weren’t strictly platonic.
Everyone seems to let Étienne get away with this, because they ship Anna and Étienne. Anna also hates Ellie, Etienne’s girlfriend (who has never done a single thing to Anna to make her hate her, other than being Etienne’s girlfriend). So not only does this promote female hating, it makes the reader hate Ellie as well. When, in reality, the reader should hate Etienne for messing around with other girls and emotionally abusing his girlfriend.
Perkins herself says that cheating is “ugly and hurtful” in this interview, so why is it such a big part of her debut novel? She also says that Etienne “makes a mistake,” but he also “learns from that mistake.” Yet, Etienne still gets the girl and has a “happily ever after” even after his mistake. So, isn’t that just saying he can still get everything he wants even after cheating? Instead of being punished for his actions, he is rewarded. Which, once again, reinforces to the readers that cheating is okay.
Others have also noticed this issue in Perkins’ novel. LilyCReads, a popular YouTuber, brought the situation to light in her Anna and the French Kiss Rant Review.
In this 32-minute-long hilarious and vulgar review, Lily addresses all the issues she has with the novel. She discusses the female hating, slut shaming and hypocrisy that she noticed when she read, as well as the emotional cheating. “I can’t ship a relationship that is born out of cheating,” she admits.
The Australian BookTuber decided to make her review after mentioning Anna and the French Kiss in her video titled, “Sh*t Books That I Hate.” The comments begged her for a full review of the book until she finally obliged a few months later.
“I’m not trying to bash anybody that likes this book,” she says. “I just don’t understand how it’s so popular.”
A book that openly glorifies a relationship born from cheating has been praised for almost eight years. Books targeted toward young audiences should never make cheating seem okay. No book at all should make cheating seem okay. Cheating is cruel and unnecessary. And as someone who has been cheated on, I can’t, and will never, stand for a book that supports it.