Synopsis: 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.
It is with great pride and deep sadness I present to you, the three stages of rereading Isla and the Happily Ever After.
It begins with hope, which quickly is dashed and becomes anger, and then, finally, all-consuming despair.
How do I even explain to you how excited I was to reread this?! I’ll try, I guess. Gotta ~set the scene~.
Anna and the French Kiss, the first book in this quasi-trilogy, is THE guilty pleasure book for me. I’ve read it probably 3 times, and it still makes me feel all lovey-dovey whenever I pick it up. (That feeling rarelyyyy happens even on a first read.)
So why was I excited to dive back into this one? BECAUSE WHEN I FIRST READ ISLA, I WENT AROUND SAYING IT WAS ONLY INFINITESIMALLY WORSE THAN ANNA. What a goddamn crime. I’d like to formally apologize. Like, you guys: I’m so sorry.
Anyway. So, recently, in my reread bonanza, I was all, How have I not reread Isla? If it’s almost as good, what’s stopping me?
And I eagerly picked it up.
ONLY TO BE DEALT THE MOST CRUSHING BLOW OF ALL TIME. It’s the surprise that hurts the most. I was fully defenseless. Stephanie Perkins, I never thought you would cause me pain like this. (Should I have expected it after one-starring Lola? Maybe. BUT I DIDN’T, OKAY?!)
I expected a swoony romance and immersive images of Europe and New York and a fun protagonist and a crush-worthy love interest. Just a fun, flirty, fluffy time. Instead, I got insta-love and a really annoying girl and repetitive plotlines and meh settings and general ickiness and an actually kind-of-okay guy, and even HE seemed confused as to how he didn’t get a better book.
But we’ll get to all that. Strap in for a long and bumpy ride, mes amis.
The biggest offense of all might exist entirely in my mind, but I f*cking hate when YA books pander to their audiences. I’m talking fantasy protagonists who loooove to read, or Twilight-esque series wherein a supernaturally hot (get it?) guy falls in love with an Average Girl. And I got a hell of a lot of those vibes from this book.
We follow Isla, who has had an unrequited crush on Josh for three f*cking years. (Very tragic.) Despite sitting next to him in many classes, when this book begins, she has interacted with him twice. Two times. Deux fois. One, two. That’s it. That’s the foundation for love we’re working with.
But that’s not what really angers me. (Well, it is, but we’ll get to that later.)
What ANGERS me is that Isla has had this crush for three years, and then it turns out HER CRUSH LIKED HER BACK ALL ALONG. How magical. Almost…fictional, wouldn’t you say? But anyway, Isla is also deeply insecure. Deeply insecure, and stuck in unrequited love? Sound like anyone you know? To me, it sounds like a stereotype of the target audience of this book. And using what you believe to be the secret dreams of teenage girls in order to sell copies? THAT’S REALLY F*CKED UP.
But my deep-rooted pessimism and distrust of The System is showing, so I’ll move on.
I didn’t even get the swoony romance I wanted! I got insta-love. Josh (the subject of the aforementioned millennia-long crush) and Isla were Official™ within, like, fifty pages. It was totally insta-lovey. Because, again, Josh liked her alllll alongggg, you guys. That’s why they never talked for three years. Because they were so totally overcome with love.
But I want to rant about Isla for about a thousand words, if you’ll allow me. (Just kidding. You couldn’t stop me if you tried.)
Isla is…what’s the word?…oh, yes. THE WORST. Being trapped inside of her head for hundreds of pages was the most horrific fate I could possibly imagine.
Isla’s entire stupid life (or lack thereof) revolves around Josh. It did before they ever even, like, made eye contact for more than .25 seconds, and it gets even worse after. I can’t even believe this is a narrative with a 4.11 rating on Goodreads. I can’t believe I gave this five stars just a couple years ago!
Okay, so, let me take you through this. Isla is the #1 student in her class – but only, she makes clear, because she has nothing better to do. (In other words, before she has Josh to do.) Isla has no ambitions, no top choice school, no clue what she wants to do in the future.
Which is fine. It’s not your fault if you don’t know what you want to do yet. I’d argue that you should still, like, care about figuring out whether you want to go to college, or at least finding one you can attend. But whatever.
But…the second Josh moseys on into the picture, she has a plan. Guess whose plan? Yes. Josh’s plan. Josh suggests a plan, based entirely on her following him to HIS plan, and she just entirely goes for that plan. (How many times can I say the word “plan”?)
By the end of the book, Isla still has no clue what her major will be. She just knows she’s living with Joshy. And that they’ll “never be apart again.” Which, gross.
But it all leads me to the question: WHO THE HELL IS ISLA?
She has no ambitions and no dreams. All I know about her is that she reads adventure books, and she HARDCORE likes Josh. (Hopefully clear by now that this is a toxic level of adoration, IMO.) I would say that she’s smart, but it’s later revealed that no, Josh is smarter than she is, he’s just toooo cool to try. BECAUSE OF COURSE.
To finish up why Isla is the worst for all time forever, I gotta delve into the plot. So after one or two hundred pages of happy-happy-joy-joy, some drama happens. Obviously. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s hardly even a spoiler to say they break up at one point. And it’s like instant regret and months of heartache and whatever.
So obviously, we’re supposed to root for them to get back together and be all, “You two are so silly for breaking up!!!” I know this for two reasons: one, it’s a YA contemporary, and two, that’s how literally every single character reacts.
I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say next.
It’s that I fully wasn’t rooting for them.
Here’s the thing. The reasons for their breakup are really legit. Like, yeah-just-stay-apart levels of legit. Isla argues that she’s a placeholder in Josh’s life because his friends left and he likes the feeling of being in love. And I was all, …Oh. Like, that adds up.
This book can never decide whether Josh did or didn’t love his last girlfriend, but I think he did. He certainly was into that bod. And he sometimes acts like a total scumbag to Isla, which doesn’t exactly make me think that it’s a whole different breed of relationship.
So…do you understand why I cringed every time they said they were going to be together foreverrrrr?
And then, when the time rollssss around for Isla’s mind to be changed, just in time for the dumb old Happily Ever After the title promises…nothing changes. Some girl (who we pointlessly hear about all the time) tells Isla the reason is she’s good for Josh is that she’s “soft” and won’t prevent him from f*cking around all the time. Which is an obviously terrible foundation for a relationship. That may change Isla’s mind, for some reason, but it does NOTHING FOR MINE.
THEY’RE SO CLEARLY INCOMPATIBLE. WHAT THE HELL.
Anyway. I kinda like Josh. He’s funny and passionate and smart. Even if he’s a total d*ckweed sometimes. I JUST DON’T LIKE THEIR RELATIONSHIP AT ALL. At the best of times, they’re icky and obsessed with each other. All other times, THEY TREAT EACH OTHER LIKE SH*T. Ugh. Some romance. Relationship GOALS! Two people who bring out the worst in each other.
On top of all of that hatred I just described, the ending scene I loved so much the first time (with the cameos from Anna and Étienne) felt really cringey and forced this time around. And none of the settings felt real, like they did in the first book.
And the plot was just so repetitive. “Isla loves Josh. Josh loves Isla now, and, guess what, he always did! They are happy. Now there is drama! Now they are happy again. Now there is drama! Now they are happy (forever after, presumably).” The same characters were cycled through in the same way: Kurt, Hattie, the other sister, the ex-friend whose name I forget. Then throw in some cameos from, you know, actually likable characters at the end, cross your fingers and hope your readers fall for it!
It’s not an interesting plot. Like, at all. This oft-quoted line sums it up: “There’s no story,’ I say. ‘I saw you one day, and I just knew.”
Yeah, okay. But do you see how that’s not good for a book?
How tragic for you, Isla and Josh, that life doesn’t just up and allow you to be together. That you start off the book as minors and have responsibilities to your education. That your parents’ money can’t BUY YOU OUT OF THE REPERCUSSIONS OF LEAVING THE COUNTRY SO YOU CAN F*CK EACH OTHER.
God. I need to stop. I can’t remember a time before I was writing this review.
Bottom line: instalove, boring plot, intolerable protagonist, more bad things. I AM VERY UPSET.