Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.
Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.
As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.
*I was sent a kindle edition of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Trigger warning: heavy drug use, alchohol use, overdose, infidelity, sex, revenge porn.
Anna K: A Love Story is a contemporary Y/A retelling of Anna Karenina, the iconic Russian novel by Tolstoy. Although I haven’t read Anna Karenina yet, I’ve heard a lot about it and am vaguely familiar with the plot, including the doomed love story between Anna and Count Vronsky so I was intrigued to see how it would all play out in a modern setting with teen characters. Jenny Lee has written such a witty, smart and addictive book which touches upon a variety of deeper issues while still managing to be deeply entertaining the entire time. If you’re familiar with or a fan of Gossip Girl, Crazy Rich Asians and 90210 then you may enjoy this book as it has a similar feel to it.
I feel like this book will get a mixed reception due to some of the issues it portrays – infidelity being one of the main ones – and the way in which this is done and I was definitely conscious of this whilst reading. There’s quite a lot of it so be warned, but I think it’s important to state that it’s not something that’s swept under the rug and the very real consequences of it is explored. I also appreciated that Lee touches upon racism, gender norms, and privilege and explores these issues, even if it’s not as nuanced as other novels, it is still present. I also liked that Lee takes this classic novel and revives it for a modern audience, with the majority of the characters being people of colour, which I’m 1000% here for.
The book is told in multiple perspectives which worked so well in allowing each character to get the spotlight and some more depth. While the overarching storyline is the love story between Anna and Vronsky, the other storylines also kept me interested. I thought Dustin’s storyline in particular was so moving. Dustin deals with his brother Nicholas’ addiction issues and the impact this has on his parents who are separated, as well as navigating his first foray into the world of love and relationships. Steven (Anna’s brother) also grew on me, more-so because of his care and consideration for Anna than anything else, I loved seeing such a strong, loving sibling relationship amidst all the drama going on.
While the novel does explore some deeper issues, there is more than a fair amount of excess and rich privileged teens being rich privileged teens. Think lavish parties, head to toe designer outfits, private jets with absolutely no consideration of money or cost. This was all pretty entertaining to read and while it’s definitely over the top at points, it’s also kind of believable. I will also mention that there’s A LOT of casual drug use and alcohol consumption in these parts of the novel so bear that in mind, if that’s not something you’re comfortable reading about then best to steer clear. There’s also scenes of a sexual nature, nothing too graphic but still quite prevalent.
Another thing which struck me about this novel was the way the final parts of the story play out and that ending? I wasn’t familiar with the ending of Anna Karenina so I didn’t expect what happened AT ALL. It was equal parts tragic and quietly beautiful and that’s all I’ll say. An extra plus for me was the authors note at the end which was so cute, I love getting that small insight into what inspired Lee to write the novel and about her own life.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book although I can see it being a bit like marmite; you will either love it or hate it. Regardless of the issues it has, I don’t think Anna K, should be disregarded as superficial or vacuous by any means as it does portray the reality of issues teens are facing and does with honesty and humour . I managed to really resonate with the story and it gave me a whole range of emotions and even made me shed a tear or two which I didn’t expect as I thought it was just a peppy rom com…reader, I was so wrong but I’m glad I read it anyway.
Until next time,