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.
Synopsis from stephanieperkins.com
It’s funny, in my recent review of Lola and the Boy Next Door, my only complaint was that I felt the book was a little too similar to it’s predecessor, Anna and the French Kiss. Thus I was presently surprised to find that Isla and the Happily Ever After was a very different book to the first two instalments of the series. While the main drama in the first two books came from love triangles and the anticipation of the two main characters getting together, Isla and the Happily Ever After had a slightly more mature plot. Isla and Josh actually begin dating fairly early in the book, thus most of the conflict stems from them trying to maintain and develop a relationship. And the biggest threat to their relationship isn’t external; it’s Isla’s own insecurities and low self esteem. Because of Isla’s mind set, this book is a bit darker than the first two novels. Both Anna and Lola were quite happy-go-lucky narrators, and this helped to gives the books a cheerful and happy vibe. In contrast, Isla is a lot more thoughtful and introspective, thus we have a quieter and less “cutesy” sort of book.
I get the impression that a lot of people who read this series felt quite let down by Isla and the Happily Ever After, and I can understand why. The book doesn’t have the same sense of fun and light tone as the first two, nor does it have as much of a clearly defined plot. However, I enjoyed this book just as much as Anna and the French Kiss, and Lola and the Boy Next Door, in part because I found it much more realistic. For starters, do love triangles actually happen in real life? I can honestly say I’ve never been in St. Clair or Lola’s position (being in a relationship with one person and then falling in love with someone else.) Isla and Josh’s story doesn’t have any of the love triangle drama from the first two books, it’s more about them finding a way to be together in spite of an uncertain future, and learning to trust and love one another. I feel that anyone who’s ever been in a relationship has probably experienced some of what Isla and Josh go through. Personally, I related a lot to Isla’s experience of first love. Like Isla, I am plagued by frequent self doubt and insecurity, and it’s a huge challenge for me to try and silence these negative thoughts and allow myself to enjoy being in a romantic relationship.
Consequently, I found Isla (and also Josh) to be more realistic characters than those found in the first two books. While the male leads (St. Clair and Cricket) from Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door were almost too perfect to be real, Josh is a deeply flawed character. He’s moody, reckless, and there are maybe three different points in the book where his poor decision making has a negative consequence on his relationship with Isla. There is literally a scene in which Josh shows Isla a full page nude portrait he drew of his ex-girlfriend . . . what was he thinking?! Ultimately, idiotic moves like this made Josh a more well rounded character. While Cricket is pretty much flawless, and doesn’t seem to any hobbies other than mooning over Lola, Josh is significantly more complex and we learn a lot more about him than we did St. Clair or Cricket. Unlikethe love interests from the first two books, Josh actually has a life outside of his girlfriend, and hopes and ambitions of his own. Isla also felt more realistic than Anna or Lola to me, but this is probably because I related to her shyness and insecurity so much.
Overall, I enjoyed Isla and the Happily Ever After as much as I did the first two books, but my experience of reading it felt very different. Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door are cute, fluffy pieces of mindless fun, and reading them brought a smile to my face. In contrast, being inside Isla’s head can be hard at times, and experiencing her insecurity definitely isn’t a pleasant feeling. However, I feel Isla and the Happily Ever After will have much more of a lasting impact on me than the first two books, and it certainly gave me a lot to think about. After seeing first hand how doubt and worry made Isla’s life significantly worse, whereas taking risks and fighting for what she wanted generally made her life better, I’ve been reevaluating my own priorities, and realising that like Isla, I need a be a bit more brave. I feel a lot of readers who experience shyness, insecurity and even social anxiety will be able to relate to Isla and hopefully learn from her. I don’t think Isla and the Happily Ever After is as easy to enjoy as it’s predecessors, but I do feel that those who are able to relate to Isla will get a lot out this book.