ARC Review: Anna K by Jenny Lee

Anna K.: A Love StoryAnna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

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 an 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.

Warnings: dubious consent, drug overdose, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, revenge porn, racism, death of loved one, self-harm and depression, animal death, sex scenes

Anna K is a modern retelling of Anna Karenina, and while it follows some main beats of the story, with regards to the protagonist, it would be more apt to say this has a Gossip Girl vibe with diverse characters. While most of the story is about Anna, it also has Dustin and Kimmie as major character storylines, while also going with Steven’s and Lolly’s PoV. Their lives intersect as they are all closely bound to each other; with all the names, it is good that there is a ‘who is who’ guide right at the start of the book. The story starts with Anna intervening when Kimmie, Lolly’s younger sister finds out Steven cheated on her, and then has Anna meeting Vronsky, a playboy who Kimmie also crushes on. Dustin, Steven’s childhood friend and now tutor, has been crushing on Kimmie, but after she rejects him, he sort of withdraws. He has an older brother who is a recovering addict and who later on crosses paths with Kimmie.

Now, firstly, the thing that frustrated me about this book is the writing and narration style. It is fully in third person, with the ‘point of view’ shifting from person to person within a single scene, telling us what they are thinking and their reasoning for their particular actions, which is all well and good to a point. The prose prioritizes this ‘explanation’ over providing actual dialogue, so it slows down the pace considerably. Remember Luis from Ant-Man and how he was narrating stories? This was like that, but less fun. I was side-eyeing my Kindle while reading this, because I was certain it was lying to me about how many hours were left! This book had a pagecount of 400 pages, but while reading, it felt like 600. And it took me A WHILE to get through this, but I mostly soldiered on by taking frequent breaks and because I was buddy-reading it so I got to vent a little.

And the reason why I had to vent was the characters! By the end of part 1, I was like ‘none of you should be in a relationship!’ because aside from the extravagance, substance abuse, and general awfulness of them, none of them had the maturity to be a person without their relationship. Lolly’s only job in life seems to be a girlfriend molded to Steven’s desires, and she comes across as shallow and vapid for like 90% of the time, and initially I felt pity for her that even in 2020 she has to be like that, but later on, with her reaction to Kimmie, I was like aw hell no. Anna, who everyone thinks is perfect, is also molded to Alexander’s desires, which presents itself in subtler ways like her choices being subconsciously dictated by what he thinks. I wished that was explored more, instead of the ‘I don’t love him’ angle or the ‘he is boring’ angle. Honestly, I wanted her to be her own person before she falls into another all-consuming relationship with Vronsky, but yeah, the plot is a retelling so it had to go where it went. Steven was terrible, like he is oblivious and offensive so that’s double damage; I would have liked his character’s journey better if the book had actually invested time in it. Vronsky (aka Alexei; does Anna have an Alex name fetish?) was just ugh; he only keeps repeating how much heart-eyes he is over Anna and if feels like it hardly goes beyond that. He just keeps insisting that he loves her will all his heart, soul and whatever, and how beautiful she is, blah blah and he is so unappealing as a love interest, I was almost (almost!) tempted to take Alexander’s side, post accident, but not like that Anna should be with Alexander, but like, Alexander was right about him being immature. Vronsky is confronted (literally, lol) by his playboy past, but I felt it was too little, too late and too rushed. And I still don’t know if Eleanor got into trouble legally or not – I needed that to happen.

The last few chapters really took the story, which was mostly non-dramatic, and dialed it up to 100 in like 2 seconds. Some dialogues, too, made me question like are we still talking about Generation Z here? Also all these characters are aware that they are doing bad things, and still they keep doing it, which was also so frustrating at times! Anna would have been better off being written older, like early 20s or so, because her characterization was inconsistent for a teen; she has the freedom and autonomy to live separately but she is also like grounded by her parents later on so it was really weird. Would you believe that at one point I commented to my buddy that Nicholas and his girlfriend were looking like the most healthy relationship in the book and keep in mind, both of them were recovering addicts who were advised to not get into a relationship. You can see why I was thoroughly unenthused with the main love story of the book.

Things that the book did well, and this was mostly in the later parts, was Kimmie’s storyline and discussing racial issues, and the double standard of cheating, as well as talking about addiction in a way that wasn’t preachy. I particularly liked Kimmie’s subplot because it was done so deftly, going from her being a naive 15 year old girl, who is getting into the life of these other teens (she was a skater, so she had a strict regimen etc before) and trying to find some measure of herself in all the chaos and uncertainty of being a regular teen. Her feelings about Vronsky, her anger over it and her recovery in the rehab center, all of it spoke to a character who is not perfect and not always likeable, but trying to cling to something that makes her feel better. Even by the end, her character journey is not complete but it also resonates with the fact that she has still more space to grow.

Finally, I found this book to be an interesting retelling with complex issues discussed, but the tiresome narration style and general unlikeability of most of the main characters put me off for most of the book.

Is it diverse? Korean-American main character; Black Jewish main character; queer and PoC secondary characters; main character with depression

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Flatiron Books, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews


Buy links

The Book Depository | Wordery

Releases on March 3, 2020

2 thoughts on “ARC Review: Anna K by Jenny Lee

  1. Pingback: February 2020 Wrap-Up | YA on my Mind

  2. Pingback: Diversity Spotlight Thursday #97 | YA on my Mind

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