Book Report: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Hey there, friends! So it kind of seemed like our joint reviews/book reports fell by the wayside, huh? We took a hiatus from them for a little while, but we’re excited to be reviving this feature because we just miss talking about books together. There’s just something delightful and wonderful and exhilarating about reading the book at the same time as your BFF. Am I right?

Today we’re discussing the latest release by Stephanie Perkins, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Just a little note: we don’t reveal any specific spoilers, but be warned that things could be alluded to.

Joint Book Review for Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (website | twitter)
Other Books Reviewed: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Publication Date: August 14, 2014
Publisher:  Dutton
Pages: 339
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: Paris, New York, boy/girl best friendship, senior year
Format Read: We both purchased copies!

Summary (from Goodreads): 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.

Just in case you need a visual reminder of who we are:

Magan Magan
Estelle Estelle

♥ ♥ ♥

 

Magan Well, hello, Estelle! Ready to talk about Isla?
Estelle So very ready! (And happy to be back for our first joint review in awhile. Hooray!)
Magan I know! I feel pretty emotional about this one. I’m so excited for more work from Stephanie Perkins, but I think the anticipation of Isla really carried me through after Lola came out. And now that there’s no more in this little companion series, I’m SO sad.
Estelle I’m a little sad too. It reminds me of graduating high school and all your friends dispersing to different schools for the first time. You’re excited but there’s also a little hole there.
Magan Exactly! Especially with how the characters appeared in Isla, it felt like a giant group hug, and then ended with a sob-fest as we waved goodbye. I think one thing that stood out to me most about Isla was that this relationship with Josh was very different, and maybe because we did the readalong, it was very apparent that Stephanie told their story differently. In the past, Lola and Anna had a lot of buildup and anticipation. In Isla, we see she and Josh connect and then there’s a lot of discord and growth and pain.
Estelle It’s funny we are talking about this tonight (a day after I saw Stephanie at a reading in NYC) because she talked about that and I found her answer very fascinating.
Magan Oh, please share. This is one thing I would love to have a on-on-one conversation with her about.
Estelle She did that on purpose and said so many of Isla’s feelings were parallels with her own and how she felt about being successful or believing people could enjoy her work.
Magan So Isla is ultimately more of a reflection of Stephanie? I wondered while I was reading.
Estelle I think in some part all of the leading ladies were a part of her but (I think I’m remembering this right) Isla was the one who healed her. I thought that was so lovely, and made me love this character so much more.
Magan Oh gosh. Why is that making me tear up? I’m such a girl.
Estelle It’s an emotional story! I have so much respect for Stephanie and how open she was about the rough times she had personally. On top of all of that, she could have published an okay book but was not okay with doing so. That’s some strong work ethic, and this is why she is loved by so many. You can see all of the effort and emotion she puts into her stories.
Magan I’m so glad that Stephanie pushed herself to change things up in her writing-style. It showed a completely different side to what she’s capable of doing. It stretched me as a reader to relate to Isla and really taught me a lot about feeling so much for Josh and not really knowing much of his story.
Estelle This love fest is so much fun.
Magan Oh, man! YES! I loved all the guy hugs and the bromance.
Estelle ME too. (Stephanie has created a lot of opportunities where she could write novellas for us sometime. Wink wink.) Were you worried because we saw him in a relationship in ANNA that ISLA wouldn’t feel legit?
Magan No, because I think that Stephanie gave us enough subtle clues that his relationship with Rashmi wasn’t a healthy one. I liked that we got to see a little pre-Isla with him, actually. It felt more authentic, I think, because many times YA books depict relationships as perfect and we imagine the characters running off into the sunset for their happily ever after… and the truth is that the person they’re with might not be their forever person. I say that.. and I married the guy I dated in high school.;)
Estelle Haha. I actually liked that we got more insight into that relationship because for so long I just thought of Josh as that guy who was always making out with that girl in front of people.
Magan Hahah! Me too! It was so nice to see the larger picture. How did you relate to Isla? Were you understanding of her character and the decisions she made?
Estelle This might have been my only complaint with the book. I bought how she wanted him and the euphoria she felt when it all fell into place, and even her insecurity. I did. But I think we needed a little more background? I wanted to see more of her sisters. There could have been a little bit more depth to all the time we see her alone. Does that make sense?
Magan It does. And it’s what I was hoping you would say because I felt the same. I think a wee bit more of her pre-Josh might have been the answer for me. I think those insecurities would have been realized much sooner as a reader to make more sense when the tension really escalates.
Estelle Same. She just seemed like such a NICE person that there were some characteristics that didn’t seem very Isla to me (not asking her sister about her breakup is one). A little more interference from the outside world of the school would have been the ticket. Though part of me is like Stephanie did achieve something here because she really took her readers out of their comfort zone. The settings of the book changed so much.
Magan Gosh, they did. Their school became so much more to me. I thought about Paris in such a different way.
Estelle It wasn’t exactly the close knit school it was in book 1. It was almost like… it’s definitely time to say goodbye.
Magan Definitely! Partially because Isla was so isolated. Anna’s world opened up with all the friends she made, but Isla really didn’t make Paris her home in the same way. I think a lot of that had to do with her best friend, Kurt. That relationship was so wonderful AND so heart-breaking.
Estelle I agree. I really enjoyed him. I have to redo my list of books of guys and girl best friends because that one really worked for me. But it also made me frustrated with her! I wanted her to be a better friend. (But, friends, please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. All of us are dismissive at times and don’t realize what we are doing and it didn’t change how I felt about Isla but still!!!!)
Magan On the other hand, part of me realized what it can be to depend on a friend so heavily that you don’t open yourself up to other possibilities. Isla, in many ways, was so loyal to him that she didn’t make any other friends.
Estelle Ah. Great point. I can’t top that, Magan. You win. Well, actually, I was proud of Kurt for going out and doing what was best for him.
Magan Yes! I was proud of him, too. But part of me wonders if Isla was holding him back too. Being so protective over him that they BOTH weren’t able to blossom.
Estelle This was one of those occasions where distance is good for both people. They needed to find their own way so they could be better friends to each other.
Magan Absolutely! I love that! I think friendships can be depicted as either perfect or incredibly destructive, and in this instance, it was such a strong representation of how there can be some turmoil, but growth and maturity and a stronger friendship prevail in the end.
Estelle YES. I mean, even Josh was dealing with a lot of change at school with most of his friends away. We see him dealing (or not) dealing with long distance friendships and also starting fresh in his last year.
Magan Gosh, just thinking about his storyline makes my heart pitter-patter. It was so great to experience him longing for his friends. Not that he hurt, but seeing his vulnerability. And getting to learn the WHY behind being such a slacker, what exactly he was working on with his drawings (OMG – loved that part), and his family dynamics, crappy as they were.
Estelle I’m going to be corny but it felt like a meant-to-be moment. Him and Isla striking up this relationship. Like all the signs were pointing to this possibility.
Magan Oh for sure. It was just so delightful. Imperfectly delightful.
Estelle How did you feel about their time apart? Did it do something to the pacing for you or did it build up the tension?
Magan That feels like such a hard question to answer. It made me feel really sad. I felt like there was such a heavy weight on my chest. Because I noticed that Stephanie changed things up in her approach to telling their story, I wondered if Isla wasn’t going to have the outcome I was hoping for. I wondered if Isla’s big happily ever after was going to be accepting herself, believing she had worth, etc., and maybe not getting the boy. Does that even make sense? Sort of like female-empowerment.
Estelle No, it really makes sense. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen either and I so got that lonely, empty feeling when Isla and Josh were apart. But I also felt like… c’mon girl, this is YOUR time. It’s time to get your shit together. This is probably because I’m older than her but I couldn’t help but think of how much she would regret sitting around moping when she looked back a few years down the line. (I was that girl once, and I still get upset I acted that way.)
Magan Oh, absolutely. I felt so sad that she thought so little of herself. I know that is a very valid feeling and often feel like that, too, but she took it to extremes before understanding how they could affect her.
Estelle Is Josh your new favorite?
Magan Oh, dang. You’ve got me there. I loved every single one of Stephanie’s boys. St. Clair’s personality was amazing. His charm! And Cricket’s wisdom and height and great style! And Josh’s artistic eye and sensitivity. Wrap those up for me, please.
Estelle hahaha. I don’t LIKE to choose favorites but I felt like Josh would have been the best match for me. If that makes sense. Like a realistic, that could happen match. So maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for him. Plus he was from NYC so at some point our love story could come true!
Magan Hahah! Is Josh your James? Do you see similarities between them?
Estelle Oh god. I don’t know. I mean they are both artistic and were slackers in high school/college. It’s possible.
Magan Hahaha!
Estelle We’ve said so much tonight. Anything else you wanted to mention? Something we missed?
Magan Hmm. I feel like this has been so therapeutic. It’s helping me accept and find closure. I will forever want there to be more to read from Stephanie Perkins.
Estelle I agree. I’m a fan of hers for life, no matter what she does next. It does feel like the end of an era, especially because I feel SP’s work had such a hand in the birth of RBR.
Magan I think that’s a HUGE part of my sadness. Anna is one of the first books we ever gushed over together.
Estelle BUT it does mean we can spread the love to others FOREVER and reread whenever we want to relive all these feelings. I know they look like silly contemporary YAs but, especially in YA, Stephanie has created some amazing books about young women confronting change, sex, bravery, and more. She’s constantly remembered for the hot guys she brings to the tables but she does just as many fantastic things for the ladies in young adult books. MIC DROP
Magan HAHAHAH! Perfect ending! You’ve said it so well. We’ve seen three very different girls who were all struggling to find their way and their boys. Stephanie gave us three girls we could all find pieces of ourselves in and I think her work will inspire girls to take risks, be bold, make friends, and push the limits. *slow clap for Stephanie Perkins*
Estelle THE END

♥

How did you feel about Isla and the Happily Ever After?
Tell us why you’ll miss this series the most…

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Estelle: Covet by Tracey Garvis-Graves

Covet by Tracey Garvis-GravesCovet by Tracey Garvis-Graves ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 320
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: recession, marriage, female/male friendships, love
Format read: ARC Paperback from Alexa at Alexa Loves Books! (Thanks!)

Summary: Unemployment and then long business trips start to take a toll on Chris and Claire’s marriage. Can things improve? Before they have a chance to work through things, Claire starts up a friendship with local cop, David. Will Claire give into the temptation she feels when she is around him? Covet is a look at marriage, commitment, and what could have been.

I went into Covet thinking I would be reading about infidelity and how a marriage does or does not heal afterward. And you know what? I was entirely wrong, and I’m so glad for that. Garvis-Graves, instead, gives us a story that made me so much more interested in why Chris and Claire’s marriage was on the rocks and why hearts have a mind of their own.

Even though the effects of the recession are all around us, I haven’t seen a lot of that infused in the books I’m reading. Garvis-Graves paints a real picture. A husband and father who is so used to taking care of his family, and what happens when he suddenly cannot. At first, he’s optimistic for new opportunities but when their savings account starts to show signs of wear, and Claire has to let go of their housekeeper, Chris starts to fall into his own black hole. It’s a funny thing. We like to think we are so past the times when husbands went to work and moms stayed home to cook and clean and take care of the kids. But that seed is still very much there for Chris and Claire. No matter how much support Claire shows Chris, his determination to support his family financially and and the failure he feels is the downfall of this family.

As I was reading, I was begging these two characters to just TALK to each other. But ya know, easier said than done.

With Chris traveling all the time for his new job (hoping to earn his keep), Claire is left home with the kids, her drama-filled neighbors, and obtaining more freelance graphic arts gigs. When she befriends local cop, David, she is instantly attracted to him and soon his attention is all she can think about it. She craves it, and who blames her really? Chris is totally wrapped up in his job, only takes a break to ask about the kids, and she is lonely. She is unbelievably lonely.

So Claire and David go to dinner and they talk a lot and they go on motorcycle rides. Their relationship borders on non-innocent and has the opportunity to cross the line, but does it?

I’m not telling you.

But whether they get it on or not is not really the point, and I applaud Garvis-Graves for bring this subject to light. We cannot control our hearts but we can control our actions. And if those actions are controlled, can we be punished for how we feel? I don’t know. Claire is an endearing character who loves Chris and her family. She tries everything to get him to open up to her but when he shuts her down the last time, she gives up. Time passes and they continue to grow apart. And with David, she feels a flicker of something that has been missing in her life.

Honestly, I had no idea how this story was going to end, but I was satisfied with it. This is my first Garvis-Graves book, and while it started a little slow and sometimes over-explained certain situations, she did a commendable job of creating characters dealing with huge changes within their home lives, neighborhood, and society. It’s a discussion worthy novel, and I’m interested to read On the Island and see how the two compare.

Food for thought: Marriage succeeds when you can communicate with your partner, and when you are willing to put in the work and the time each day. Is Chris’ ignorance due to his new job better or worse than Claire’s emotionally distracting friendship with David? Are they both at fault? Is one worse than the other?

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