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…

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add ISLA to Goodreads | Buy from Amazon | Buy from Barnes & Noble

travel tails feature with rather be reading, alexa loves books, and novel sounds

Travel Tales: Where We Come From

travel tails feature with rather be reading, alexa loves books, and novel sounds

Once upon a few weeks ago, we were pretty psyched to write a post about books set in the places we are from. You might already know that Magan hails in Austin, Texas and Estelle floats around New York (living in Long Island and commuting to NYC for work every day). Unfortunately, not all plans work out the way we want them to. Here’s just what happened:

magan: what’s the deal, Austin?

So I am pretty disappointed by the lack of books set in Austin. I, personally, haven’t read a single one.

There’s so much here to fall in love with. Austin is a city with a small town kind of feel. We’re trendy in our own ways — we make Toms shoes cool and riding bicycles is something we actually do for fun (and hey, it helps the environment, too). T-shirts and shorts are perfectly acceptable in most restaurants because we’ve got a laid back kind of vibe. Our summers are hot, but we’ve got lakes and natural pools (Hamilton pool) to keep us tan and cooled off during the summer months. We’re dog-rescuing, music-loving, Alamo Drafthouse-moving-watching kinda folks. (Yep, that’s right y’all – our movie theaters serve food AND ADULT BEVERAGES). We’re a wide mix of cultures – a definite melting pot of people. Austin is the city that sticks out on the map of Texas in the sea of red during election years. Austin is a city that’s hard to leave behind (I speak from experience — we tried to move away and came back after a year).

So tell me, why aren’t there more books set in Austin?

…meanwhile

While we brainstorm this conundrum, lemme say that NYC never fails to entrance me with its lights and fast-paced ways. (In fact, way back when, I thought I might actually move there.) So I’m sharing my three favorite books with fabulous NY settings:

travel tales book event, books set in new york city, lack of books set in austin texas

Bunheads by Sophie Flack: a 19-year old girl has to decide if she wants to continue pursuing a career as a professional ballerina. She’s tempted to throw away all her hard work for an NYU boy.
Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: four performing art school students in NYC try to figure out their lives and what they’ll move on to accomplish post-graduation.
Where She Went (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman: Adam reconnects with Mia after one of her performances at the symphony in NYC. As they reconnect, they explore the city.

(Observation: It seems my picks are all performance driven. Is that ME and what i’m attracted to reading? Or is that what’s available?)

estelle: the riches of new york.

New York City is a hot spot that sits on the highest pedestal. Even someone like me, who grew up in New Jersey, could never get over the majesty of NYC. I loved the bright lights, the bustling people, how it seemed like everything was always happening there. Even though I grew up only 10 miles away, my parents would take my sister and I into the city one time a year. I remember how much fun those days were and also how miserable it was to leave — because just like Christmas, I would have to wait an entire year to visit again. These days, sometimes I want to pinch myself because I get to spend every day walking the streets of NYC (when I’m not hanging out in the fluorescent lights of my office) or call a doctor because well, New York can be entirely overwhelming.

When it comes to books about this crazy town, I do enjoy both the tourist treat and the locals who make living in the big city seem like a walk in the park. Here are a few of my “big apple” picks:

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: An oldie but goodie from my elementary school days. Siblings run away to the MET. This book is all about adventure and mystery.
Love Story by Jennifer Echols: I spent two years of my undergrad at a school in NYC and I related to Erin’s character a lot (although I wasn’t writing sultry romance pieces… I can only imagine how my class would react to that). I liked reading about a college age kid in NYC for the first time and in an environment I could picture so well.
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan: David does a beautiful job of of describing the initial reactions to 9/11 and how it affects three people. This book was so on target, so emotional, and for someone who experienced 9/11 from a close distance (if that makes sense), it felt very true to the mixed bag of feelings — the grief, the disconnect, the healing — penetrating the area at this time.

 …ironically

I’ve read two of the only books we’ve found to be set in Austin:

Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker: Country music, Austin landmarks, and a cowboy next door. This book is so much fun and offers a lot more than the cover promises.
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham: …and it feels so good! (I couldn’t help myself.) I just finished this book about 3 ex-best friends who find themselves on a road trip to see their favorite band perform in Austin. Honestly, very little time is spent on Austin but hey, it still makes an important appearance.

As a two-time tourist and lover of this town (because two of my best friends live here and it just has an awesome overall feeling), I thought one of these captured the fab-ness of Austin best. I like how both of them had some sort of musical plotline. Seems like NYC and Austin have that in common.

help!

We want to hear from you. Are there any locales you would like to see represented in your reading pile? Also, if you know of any Austin-ish books, please share!

other places to run off to:

alexa: dreams of traveling (book locales)
novel sounds: soundtracking your reading adventures
alexa: alaska with kristilynn (guest post)
giveaway: kissing shakespeare by pam tingle (time travel)
alexa: getting to your destination (through reading)
novel sounds: let’s go visit harry potter (please)
alexa: intro & birthday giveaway (yay)

Estelle: Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers

Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers (Twitter)
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 240
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Format read: Paperback from ALA! (Thanks!)

Summary: Maria is ready to start fresh in New York City, living with her estranged mom and going to a new school. She’s not exactly sure what to expect but anything can be better than her old friends and invisibly cohabiting with her dad. But for more reasons than one, New York isn’t all she thought it would be…

“Because it’s New York fucking City and it’s the coolest city in the whole world.”

When I was younger, my best friend (at the time) and I would make mixed tapes for each other by recording songs from music videos on VH1 or MTV. I distinctly remember setting my mini boom box on my TV stand and pressing record. In Supergirl Mixtapes, Maria receives tapes from her best friend, Dory, who is in college. The tapes are full of strong female performers as well as whatever she is listening to at the moment. To Maria, these tapes provide a comfort and a connection to a person she can’t be with all the time; they were made to cover every kind of mood.

In general, music is a connector and comfort to most of the characters in this book. Why they need that connection and that comfort is a whole other story.

From the title Supergirl Mixtapes might be mistaken for a light, coming-of-age story and even though the back summary talks of a “darker side” and her mom’s “shadowy past”, I was not prepared for the events that ended up taking place. Maria was a different kind of main character for me. She was more of a risk taker, sort of a loner yet self-sufficient and full of passion for all things music. It’s an interesting thing to grow up without a mom (and without zero contact with her) and all of sudden be your mother’s daughter while sort of being your mother’s mother too. Vic is a hip mom with her 20-year old boyfriend and desire to stay up listening to records on a school night, mastering dance moves from various decades.

Truth: Mother and daughter relationships are tricky and complex as it is. But Maria and Vic bring this knowledge to a whole new level.

Brothers does a great job of building on this conflict between Maria and her mom, then Maria and herself, and even involving Maria and her life in the South (mostly revelations about her own father). While reading, about a hundred different scenarios were buzzing in my head… I had no idea what Maria would discover about her mom, why she had left the South in the first place, and what would come out of this bizarre life she was living in New York – pretending to be one thing and being another entirely. (For the record, my theories were all wrong.)

Growing up around New York and spending most of my 9-5 here for the past couple of years, I loved reading about a book set in 1997 NYC. The only other YA book I’ve read recently that’s set in time other than present day is Other Words for Love which placed characters in 80s NYC. I find it a fascinating (and creative) decision to set a fictionalized book in a time so close to the present but still so wildly different. It really worked here. It’s always intriguing to hear about how a place grows and changes, and only in about 15 years? Crazy.

The author also presents some great secondary characters: Travis, mom’s boyfriend and a stomach-flipping guitar player; Gram, a college boy from the South that Maria meets in a record shop; Nina, an older friend of Maria’s mom who reminded me of Julie Andrews when she took Maria under her wing. Not only are these supporting characters well developed but it’s amazing just how much of an impact each has on Maria as well.

Looking back, one thing I would have liked to see in the book was more of a presence by the mixed tapes. Actual lists beginning every few chapters, maybe? Sure, the book itself was obviously written by someone with great rock music knowledge and provided a soundtrack all on its own but the actual tapes from Maria’s best friend may have tied up a few loose corners and made it live up to its name just a bit more.

And the ending. I’m not going to lie. After reading in the street as I walked to work (something I hate when other people do it), I would have liked a bit more resolution, sure. But in ways, the growth in Maria and her ability to maybe move forward and understand something about herself was apparent. Brothers has written a strong novel about a girl during one time in her life. A dark time. But a time full of discovery, too. Where she goes next… we don’t know but we certainly have an idea. And, for once, I wasn’t entirely bothered by unknown.

* I’m really torn with this rating. This was a book I couldn’t peel my eyes away from and I could see how music lovers might be SUPER enthused about this book. Buy or borrow. I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you read it. *

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Just one more note. I couldn’t help but think of two of my (absolute) favorite books as I read this: God Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star by Tiffanie DeBartolo. Another writer who just oozes with her passion of music.

Estelle: Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Other Words for Love by Lorriane Zago Rosenthal
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: Paperback
Why I bought it: The cover, and the title.

Summary: Set in the 1980s in and around New York City, Ari is a girl under a lot of pressure. Her mom wants her to achieve everything she herself did not and that means enrolling Ari into a private school in Manhattan when the family is left a substantial inheritance. Her best (and only) friend is gorgeous and popular and won’t let Ari forget it. But when Ari meets Leigh on her first day of school and is introduced to her handsome and do-gooder cousin, Blake… she finds more than a little distraction.

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s debut novel is a beautiful and painful story of love, obligation, finding your own path, and making mistakes. The writing itself is so natural and the development of Ari’s character and the progression of the storyline in general are so well-done it makes me ache. For real. (Warning: the summary on the paperback is nothing like the story. At all.)

As a narrator, Ari is mature and honest. Honest when it comes to having a crush on her brother-in-law, honest when it comes to her qualms about being a good Catholic and still having the urge to have sex. I loved her voice. It was refreshing but strangely quiet, as if we can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she comes to various conclusions.

Most intriguing to me was the female dynamic in this particular book. A mom who is desperate to write a novel but can never seem to finish it, who feels ashamed she never amounted more. A sister who got pregnant very young and suffers from post-partum depression and a rare jealously of her younger sister. And then there is Ari, sort of stuck in the middle. She wants to do what’s right for her mom, for her sister, and for her but she quickly realizes how much she will have to sacrifice to make even just one of those people happy. And she is backed into some very difficult predicaments because of it.

Of course, we have the uber-amazing Summer as the selfish best friend who uses Ari as a constant ego boost. (Yet another trend in YA books. The craptacular best friend you just can’t get rid of.) So as you can imagine that leads to some juicy drama, especially when Summer doesn’t “approve” of Ari being close with Leigh, who has a slew of her own problems as well. It’s sort of like estrogen overload, but it’s done so well and just so real that it just worked.

Then there is the first love aspect. Ari and Blake. We all know how overwhelming and addicting it can be and I haven’t read it so well since Judy Blume’s Forever (which is one of my favorites) and this is better. Blake has his own interesting dynamic and feelings of obligation, and him and Ari wrestle from being so right for one another to so wrong, over and over again. In plenty of YA books, readers are subject to believe in connections that have no depth but the depth, the darkness, the insecurity and the freedom of that addicting love exists here. And without the internet, the text messages, Facebook, whatever. Because it’s the 80s people. And that’s a welcome change to YA settings.

There’s nothing left here to say except read Other Words for Love if you have not already. The writing style is stellar, the plotlines are beyond believable and effective, and you will not be able to put it down or stop thinking about it when you reach the final page. It’s just one of those rare books that stays with you.

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon