**ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER is so highly anticipated that I won't post about the story's plot itself in this review, but let you discover it for yourself. But you can get a sense of the book's scope based on all that I love and do focus on in the following review!***
ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER was everything I wanted it to be. I adored ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Adored. You all know that I'm not huge on contemporary fiction unless it really grabs me. Despite the cover, despite the title, Anna grabbed me and burrowed into my heart. I was so excited for author Stephanie Perkins' sophomore release, LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR, but it didn't manage to recapture that magic for me. I've been both anticipating and staying ISLA. Would it be more like ANNA or like LOLA? I've been afraid to find out.
The character development is gorgeous. Josh absolutely comes to life and becomes an amazing human being that I wish I knew in real life. I love how animate he is, how focused. We're always learning something new about him alongside Isla. He's always covered in ink or battling tendonitis or working on his amazing graphic memoir. Did I ever think I could love him as much as Étienne? *hides* But I do. And they're best friends, so that makes sense, right?? And Isla! In a way, Isla reminds me a bit of Cress from Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series. Both girls have obsessive crushes on the guy long before he becomes a real flesh and blood human being to them. They both have to adjust the way they think and adapt in order to find *real* love. Poor Isla suffers from so many insecurities due to this, but rather than being annoying, you just want to give her a big hug. Perkins truly excels at human interactions and bringing characters to life. She's also great at updating readers about previous characters without it seeming forced or awkward. (And I know the trilogy is over, but I would so love a book -- or even a novella! -- about Cricket's twin sister Calliope, if only because I'm obsessed with figure skating novels...It doesn't even have to be a romance!)
Is ISLA perfect? No. I still liked ANNA better. I loved the tight-knit friendship of the first book and all the quirky adventures everyone got into together. Granted, ISLA still has some great adventures, too, and I especially loved the visuals of Barcelona (I really want to go there now because it sounds gorgeous!). I also loved the privileged look at the Manhattan elite, though some of the storyline does bog down at times here. I thought it was great that the main secondary character, Isla's friend Kurt, was autistic, and that Perkins was brave enough to include him as a central, important character. It only makes me admire her more.
After LOLA, I wasn't sure that I would continue to love books by Perkins, because again, contemporary isn't my truest love. Totally a me thing! But ISLA made me realize how much I admire Perkins' writing skills and ability to make me care about her characters (Yes, even Lola! I loved that girl's quirkiness!). I'll definitely continue reading her in the future and am excited to see who she chooses to introduce us to next. (Though not her next one, because, no, horror novels are not and will never be for me!) If character and setting continue to take on such a vivid life of their own through her writing, I will continue reading!