Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K, #1) by Jenny Lee
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: March 3, 2020
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One of the staples of fiction is the modern retelling of a classic novel. It’s a bit dicey—sometimes it works and other times it goes awry. Anna K is Jenny Lee’s reimagining of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—a sweeping 800-page saga about a married woman and mother who falls in love with a debonair count, giving up everything to be with him and losing it all when he moves on. Lee doesn’t opt to hold on to Anna Karenina’s weighty themes of society, class, and infidelity, which is wise. Instead, she spins 180° (on what is likely a chic kitten heel) and makes her Anna a 17-year-old rich girl with the right Greenwich boyfriend who falls prey to Vronsky, the hot new guy in NYC. Is taking the classic and translating it to teenagers the best idea? That depends on what you’re looking for in your reading.
Anna has an older brother who’s been bounced from boarding school to boarding school and is the ubiquitous party boy. He means well, but gets caught sexting with someone who is not his longtime girlfriend. Anna is called in to help with the situation. She eschews Manhattan to live in Greenwich with her dogs and horses. She’s the picture of stability and balance while everyone around her is partying and pairing off. She does her job well, until she meets Vronsky, and suddenly her staid boyfriend of four years is not so interesting anymore. Lee updates the original formula of Vronsky-as-cad but sticks with the fact that when things go wrong, only the woman suffers the consequences. Until the very end, when, while there is heartbreak, there is also redemption. A nice modern switch.
Details of wealthy people behaving badly aside, do you need to read Anna K? Unless you fall into the 15-to-25 and female category, I’m going to say no. The book is YA and, in that way, she knows her audience. The issue is, I’ve read some amazing YA in the last few years, but it had themes, plots, and writing that transcended age (see options below). I was hoping for more of the same from Anna K. This doesn’t happen. It’s chapter after chapter of people with more money than sense who do a lot of drugs for fun and have a lot of sex. I’d say young people, but even the parents come off as emotionally stunted and mainly interested in what their money can buy. There’s very little harm in the book, but neither is there any sort of depth. The plot explodes with contemporary clichés. I’m all for good chick-lit, but this goes beyond fun into silly and even cheesy. Plus, it’s 400 pages, far too long for so much froth. As is, it’s serviceable, poolside, afternoon reading.
Young Adult reading I loved that entertains, but with more heft: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, The Takedown by Corrie Wang, and Before My Eyes by Caroline Bock.
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