First Impressions – ‘Anna K.’ by Jenny Lee

Title: Anna K. : A Love Story
Author: Jenny Lee
Publisher: Flatiron books
Publishing date: 3rd March 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Contemporary
Number of pages: 480

This book came into my life along with a book box that contained this book along with a couple other books. And while it wasn’t the book I was looking forward to reading the most, I was interested as to how it would pan out.

‘Leo Tolstoy meets Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl’ is what a lot of people have to say about this book. Although I’ve not seen either Crazy Rich Asians or Gossip Girl, some of their influence and repute  – the partying, the drugs, the sex and the insane amounts of money – is reflected throughout this story.  This book is a retelling of the classic ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy, with almost the entire cast being children of  the 1% tier of society living in – and ruling – Manhattan’s social scene. Everyone is a teenager, everyone has a credit card that doesn’t get maxed out, and everyone enjoys a good time.

If you’ve read – or know about – Anna Karenina, you could guess how this would go.

Anna K., a 16 year old Korean-American, is perfectly content with her relationship with Alexander W., a.k.a the ‘Greenwich OG’ – that is, until she has a chance encounter with Alexia ‘Count’ Vronsky at a train station. She begins to question her wants, her idea of a romance, and her morality. Alongside this is the story of Steven, Anna’s elder brother, and his girlfriend Lolly, whose fallout due to Steven’s infidelity is what starts this book off. The third story in this book is about Dustin, Steven’s childhood friend, (one of the few people in the cast of characters who isn’t privileged with a bank account bursting at its seams) who falls in love with Kimmie (Lolly’s sister) and has to deal with disillusionment and his reformed addict brother’s shenanigans.

The book is in three parts, and as I write this, I’m about to start the third part. The story moves along at a steady pace, and takes the time it needs to describe each event that passes. It’s in no hurry as it takes you through the trials and parties of the rich, the struggles of the not-so-fortunate, and the universal problems that plague adolescents. At the same time, the pace doesn’t lag, and the three stories switch and intermingle in a way that isn’t confusing.

The characters are relatable at their highs and lows, although in comparison, there are more lows than highs. Love at first sight, insane attraction, cheating, rejection and being rejected, peer pressure, excitement, getting stuck inside one’s psyche – a spectrum of teenage experiences are explored through the cast which, although mostly comprised of spoilt rich kids, are quite human.

The comparison to Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is possible to an extent, due to the similarity in the names and the situations that the characters get into. But the comparison ends at that superficial level. I read the English translation of Anna Karenina years ago, during a college trip, and didn’t quite finish it due to constant interruptions during the trip and a lack of time after the trip was done. What I do remember from it was that it wasn’t just a romance. Tolstoy commentary of Russian society during his times was as important as the stories he narrated in order to convey his message. This book isn’t quite that, nor does it pretend to be. It is a young adult novel, and just that.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the excesses that are described in this book – they pop up in the narrative time and again – nor am I a fan of underage kids doing drugs, drinking booze or having sex every day of the week, because YOLO. What I least liked was the attitude that the parents embodied – that of a casual bystander watching kerosene being poured on a burning house. Maybe it fit the tone of the book, but multiple instances of the parents knowing what their kids were doing, and not doing anything about it rubbed me the wrong way, because it’s not something I would personally endorse. I don’t consider other people’s actions my business, but underage kids getting into excesses makes me sad, more than anything else. It does exist in the real world, more prevalent than what one would be comfortable with, but it’s something that makes me feel bad for those kids who get in, and never learn to get out.

The language used in this book contains a lot of slang, some of which (thank god) is explained. It took some getting used to, but thankfully didn’t distract too much from the actual story. I personally didn’t mind the use of teenage slang, given the tone of the story and the average age of the characters, but it is significant enough to not ignore.

All things considered, however, I am quite interested to see how things go forward, and whether Anna and Vronsky get their happy ending here, which was snatched away from them in the original work. I’m also interested in seeing how the other characters develop, and how their stories pan out.

First impression: It’s a YA novel through and through, with good storytelling, a steady pace and characters with relatable stories.

My recommendation: If YA novels are up your alley, I would recommend you read the first 5 chapters first, to gauge your own reaction. All in all, it is quite interesting, and doesn’t seem like it will disappoint.

I’ve been having quite a bit of free time to catch up on my reading recently, so I decided to read as many story books as I could before I have to leave home. I’m taking quite a few story books with me as well, but I’m not sure as to whether I’ll have time to read them or not. I should, initially, but let’s see.

I was planning to read ‘The Goldfinch’ or ‘Pachinko’ in this time, but both of those books are pretty heavy, and something I’ll need time with. I decided to read ‘Anna K.’ first, so that I can leave it at home and not carry it with me like I originally intended. I’ll probably be reading ‘The Goldfinch’ next.

Have you read this book, or Anna Karenina? Please let me know what your thoughts were on this book. Also, if you have any recommendations on other books I could read , I’d be happy to have them. Thank you guys, and see you soon!

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