Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Isla had a crush on Josh since her freshman year. She pined for him for three years and accepted that her cause was hopeless. She miserably watched him date a much cooler, older girl and knew he would never look at her. Then all his friends graduated and he was left alone. Josh had never been very academically motivated, but now he seemed to have lost all reason to attend classes. A fateful meeting before school reopened, caused Josh to seek Isla out and slowly they became friends and then more.

Isla was happy with this turn of events but not confident in their relationship. She subconsciously believed that he only started dating her because he was lonely and needed a friend. So when Josh convinced her to leave the city for an overnight trip and they got caught by the school, things started to unravel quickly for them. Josh was expelled and flown home by his parents. They spent the rest of the semester separated, but connected by phone calls and texts.

When they met again, small gestures and words caused misunderstandings and suddenly Isla felt convinced that they should not be together. She broke up with him so he wouldn’t break up with her. They spent the next few months heartbroken and unhappy. Eventually Isla realized her mistake and when Josh stopped being angry at her, he visited school and they made up. The End.

Oh no wait. There was also a cameo by Anna, St Clair, Cricket and Lola. Okay, now, the End.

I wish I could say the story was made more than the summary by its treatment but there really wasn’t much in the main story arc for the book to explore. At the end of the story I could see that Isla may have grown as a character but I could see absolutely no growth in Josh. When the story began, Isla was dependent on her best friend, Kurt, a boy with high functioning autism, insecure about herself and unsure about what she wanted to do in life. Her one love were adventure books. Then she got a boyfriend and her life revolved around him. And while she was living the high drama of high school romance, Kurt found his own friends. Then suddenly Isla was left to figure out who she was and what she wanted without the crutch of a best friend or a boy friend. Even so, by the end of the book it seemed that she had grown somewhat. She was more confident and at peace with her unambitious self.

Josh began the book as a gifted artist who knew where he was going and didn’t care about much else. When the story ended, he’d acquired a girlfriend and learnt to take editorial criticism for his work – which one supposes he would have had to learn at some point in his life anyway. His biggest struggle in the frame of the story was that he hated his school but couldn’t admit it to his parents because he chose it for himself. His greatest misery was because he missed his friends. Neither of these threads went anywhere. He never made any new friends and he got expelled halfway through the year. He got a GED and went to the college he had wanted to attend all along.

The best parts of the book was in the first half when they were just starting to date. Perkins has a deft hand with the ebb and pull of budding romance and it’s always charming to read it on the page. But then in the second half, in the absence of any real conflict in the story, the author broke them up for unconvincing reasons and assured us that this resulted in character growth.

There’s a scene where the Principal advises Isla to focus on her studies again since there will always be other boys. Isla feels indignant that the woman was dismissing her relationship with Josh. Later this feeling changed to fear that everyone could see that Isla and Josh would never work out. In her head this was because she didn’t deserve him. But reading the story, I saw Isla much as the Principal probably saw her. A kid in the throes of her first infatuation, feeling like the world would end if the relationship did. I agreed with the lady. There would be other boys. Josh and Isla’s frantic, consuming feelings for each other were sudden and a little out of nowhere. And because they didn’t seem to be based on a foundation of any sort, they seemed like something that would burn out quickly.

There was a certain something – a solidity, a patient resolve – that made readers believe that Anna and St Clair (from Anna and the French Kiss) would stay together forever. Lola and Cricket (from Lola and the Boy Next Door) were so uniquely well matched that you could see how as the years passed they would only need each other more. With Isla and Josh, I feel reasonably certain they would either drift apart in college or stay together till Isla grows tired of being a planet orbiting Joshua’s sun.

Final Word: I really hope Isla finds the courage to set off on her own adventure.

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