Novel: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins | Goodreads
Release Date: August 14, 2014
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?
Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.
Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.
Isla and the Happily Ever After is a melty sort of contemporary romance that’s sure to satisfy. Between the adorable yet thoughtful main character and the lavish backdrops, the well-placed cameos and the clever subplots, it’s the addictive sort of read that means my copy’ll probably be pretty shabby by the time it circles my group of friends. Additionally, I keep calling it Isla and the Boy Next Door (a nod to Lola) so apologies for how many times I’ll do that on here.
My main point of caution in going into Isla is that although it’s written with the cute, smart voice of Perkins’ previous books, it starts at a different point. Instead of the entire book leading up to the relationship, the point of this one is what happens after. It’s about the relationship itself and the uncertain future once they’ve both gotten inseparable. Because of that, it has the happy-go-lucky aura of a lighter book but can get a little too sweet sometimes.
Before I really get into my review, y’all should know that I love the tension. I’m a conflict person, I’ll admit. I love reading about falling in love, not necessarily what happens after because that tends to get a little monotonous in teen reads. Yes, there are issues after but I like hearing about the butterflies and the uncertainty and the weird ins-and-outs of having a crush that lead to a spectacular boy-gets-girl ending, or girl-gets-girl, or whatever the combination might be. I like the lead-up because that’s what I have the most experience with and that’s what interests me in most young adult.
So despite the gushing fangirls and the swooning bloggers, I was a little hesitant to get into this one.
The first scene immediately plunges the reader into a warm, absorbing scene taking place in New York City. When Isla walks into one of her favorite cafes and sees Josh, she’s stricken with nervousness. Josh is an artist from her boarding school in Paris, the boy she’s had a secret crush on for years. She’s memorized their interactions and to see him half a world away, the day she gets her wisdom teeth removed, is a strange joke from the universe. Despite her awkward crush, they start talking. He draws her and she falls asleep, and it’s a magical night for Isla. When she doesn’t see him for the rest of the summer though, she starts to doubt it.
Then they go back to Paris for their senior year. He’s in a few of her classes, as he is every year, and she’s determined to get through her studies and figure out college. But something happens, and then before she knows it, they’re together. From dates in Paris to romantic antics in Barcelona, Isla and the Happily Ever After focuses on what happens when you finally get the guy, and love during transition. Can you really get the happily ever after?
While the book is a little heavy on the instalove – to be fair, Isla’s had a crush on Josh for years – it’s the lovely sort of romance that’s sure to leave you melting.
Isla was a clear-headed, but still enthusiastic, main character. That balance was really refreshing to read, and was definitely reminiscent of Perkins’ previous books. She has the sort of driven personality that let me relate to Anna and Lola, with the sensitivity and innocence that made me love her specifically. She came from an interesting background – and immediately clears up the idea that Isla is pronounced eye-la rather than oz-la – and stuck with who she was. Although I don’t think she was as memorable as Anna or Lola, she was likable.
Her main struggle was really keeping her identity while wanting so badly to get absorbed into Josh. She knew she was in love and she fell hard, but she had to work really hard to keep from forgetting herself. She was practically valedictorian and she wanted to get into certain schools; she had to watch over her younger sister who was at SOAP (School of America in Paris) for the first time AND watch over Kurt, her best friend with high-functioning autism. Especially when Josh and Isla get into more physical aspects of their relationship, their romance changes a lot of her focus.
Josh was a quiet cartoonist with political parents, and he was one who would rather draw scenes than go to class. I liked Josh and he was great to Isla. He had a lot going on which contributed to being an interesting character, but the fact that I’m drawing a blank on what to say here shows me how little of an impact he really had on me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Josh and I loved Josh-and-Isla but I’m not sure whether he’s a character that hit me hard because I didn’t see much complexity there.
It’s a very dramatic book. It’s also a very moment-based book. The plot dips and peaks with little regard to chronological consistency but it fit well with the characters and situation. The structure was nice and it was emotionally charged, but that nature makes it a quick read.
I had some problems with this book – mostly due to me preferring a different kind of romantic read – but there was still something about it. There was this mood to it, this voice that just broke my heart. It made me unbelievably happy and it still led me to broken down tears at multiple points. It was a story in the full sense of the word. It hit me harder than Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door did and honestly? That means a lot more than technical perfection does. I want a book that makes me feel something, even when I can point out a few flaws. Endings are what kill me; it’s why I have my “shelf of shame” full of series conclusions that I haven’t read. Stephanie Perkins has this beautiful gift of making an ending feel like a beginning.
Essentially, what it boils down to is that Isla and the Happily Ever After took me out of my comfort zone in a reverse way than I’m used to; it was about love with flair and love with issues, the kind of head-over-heels infatuation that I’m not used to reading about or enjoying. While I would have liked the characters to have some more substance or impact, I still loved the vibrant settings and everyday issues scattered throughout a swoon-worthy relationship. I even got to read about some of my favorite characters from Perkins’ previous books. It left me in tears, which almost always guarantees a positive review. Read it if you’re looking for a romance that’ll break you a little, but take it with a grain of salt.