I read both Anna K and Anna K Away by Jenny Lee what now feels like forever ago, when really it was in May and the start of June. These books have been everywhere but let me give you a quick synopsis of both (spoilers ahead) before a brief review.
Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way. Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna's brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather a sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie. As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all. Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K.: A Love Storyis a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's timeless love story, Anna Karenina―but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.
Anna K Away
How the mighty have fallen. Anna K, once the golden girl of Greenwich, CT, and New York City, has been brought low by a scandalous sex tape and the tragic death of her first love, Alexia Vronsky. At the beginning of the summer, her father takes her to the other side of the world, to connect with his family in South Korea and hide her away. Is Anna in exile? Or could this be her chance to figure out who she really is? Back in the U.S., Lolly has forgiven Steven for cheating on her, and their relationship feels stronger than ever. But when Lolly meets a boy at her beloved theater camp, she has to ask herself how well Steven will ever really know her. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, everything between Kimmie and her new boyfriend, Dustin, is easy--except when it comes to finally having sex. And Bea escapes to LA, running away from her grief at her beloved cousin's death, until a beautiful stranger steals her heart. Is Bea ready to finally forgive Anna, and let herself truly fall in love for the very first time? Set over the course of one unforgettable summer, Jenny Lee's Anna K Away is full of the risk, joy, heartbreak, and adventure that mark the three months between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.
I have to admit that I’m not sure if I’d have picked these up if it weren’t for my favourite bookstagrammers talking and raving about them. I loved the covers but felt that I was maybe past the target audience for these given that they’re set in high school, however I am a fan of Crazy Rich Asians, and given that this was billed as a book for the fans of that series I thought I’d give it a go.
I really struggled to get in to the first book. It just did not capture me at all; I wasn’t fussed about the story line, didn’t really care about the characters one way or the other, my general feeling was ‘Meh’, so I wasn’t looking for every spare minute to grab a couple more pages. I don’t know if part of the issue is that this book is essentially a modern-day retelling of Anna Karenina (hence the name) and I have never been one for those overly dramatic 19th and 20th century pieces, so everything just felt a bit over the top for me.
I fought my way through it and obviously had to read Anna K Away, because the cliff hanger from Anna K was just too much! Now this book I liked so much more! It dealt with issues around grief, addiction, mental health, relationships, finding your place in the world, love, sexuality, family and more. These were topics I could get behind; these were things that made me care about the characters! Needless to say, I read this one so much faster and wanted to find the time to read it.
As I say, I’m not sure if the Tolstoy of it all, the high school setting or the hype were to blame but what I read didn’t live up to what I was expecting, which is not to say that these are bad books! I liked these two books, with the second being an improvement on the first in my opinion, but they aren’t my favourites, and they aren’t two books that I would be running out and recommending to everyone.