In Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, we got two very slow-building romances. In fact, one half of each couple was with someone else for the majority of each book. In Isla and the Happily Ever After, we start off with romance.
Isla, hopped up on painkillers after getting her wisdom teeth removed, heads out to a cafe called Kismet, where she runs into Josh, her long-time crush. While Isla is normally very shy, the painkillers take away some of her inhibitions that night, and she ends up having a very fun night with Josh. Back at school, Isla and Josh’s relationship unfolds beautifully and realistically… until it also implodes, also quite realistically.
I read this book in one sitting on a Saturday afternoon. I am a big fan of Stephanie Perkins’ work, but Isla really surprised me. Anna and Lola had a very similar structure, very similar themes of unrequited love and leaving the one you might be comfortable with, but who isn’t necessarily right for you. Isla is very different in that it’s about finding yourself and not letting your insecurities get the best of you.
In that way, it’s actually a very frustrating book to read, because it’s clear that Isla and Josh are so good for each other. They balance each other out perfectly. But Isla’s insecurities and her uncertainty about what her future might hold end up putting a strain on her relationship with Josh until she snaps and breaks it off. Break up with him before he realizes he can do better than you. It’s heartbreaking, and I almost cried reading it, because it’s just so realistic.
In Anna and Lola we saw what it takes for two people to realize they’re meant for each other. In Isla, the story was more about what it takes to make that relationship actually work. And I think that’s a good thing for teens, the target audience of these books. Yes, it’s great to find someone you love. It’s all sunshine and roses at the beginning. But as that relationship goes on, you have to work at it. And that’s not often shown in YA novels. But yes, couples fight, and past relationships can come back to haunt you, and there will be days where you’re not sure that it’s going to work out. And that doesn’t mean that your relationship is bad, or that you should break up, or that there’s something wrong with you. It means that your relationship is normal, and I have to give Stephanie Perkins a lot of credit for doing a great job at showing that.
Isla is so different from its predecessors, but it’s still a really great book. Highly recommended for fans of Stephanie Perkins’ works.
Final rating: ★★★★☆