Anna K: A Love Story
by Jenny Lee
💔💔💔💔💔 (five stars, as rated in broken hearts because, oh, Anna Karenina… )
I first read and review this book in October of 2020. But with the release of its sequel, Anna K: Away only two months away I decided it more than deserved a revisit.
Anna K has it all. And with the perfect reputation, the perfect boyfriend and the perfect life at an elite school in Greenwich, Anna is envied by many. When her brother, Steven, enlists Anna’s help to smooth over a rift with his girlfriend, Lolly, Anna drops everything and rushes to aid him in Manhattan. When the storm clouds have cleared, Anna opts to stay awhile with her friends in the city. After all, it’s so rarely that she gets to socialize and really cut loose away from the expectant eyes of her peers in Greenwich. It is then that Anna meets Dustin (Steven’s life-long friend and tutor), Kimmie (Lolly’s vivacious -if a bit naive- younger sister and the object of Dustin’s unrequited affection) and Alexia “Count” Vronsky (a dashing and irresistible playboy who seems to have his eye on her). Anna knows the wisest move would be to return to Greenwich, leaving her entanglement with Alexia in the past. Choosing to pursue this dalliance further could devastate more than just her sterling reputation…
“Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.”-Jenny Lee, Anna K: A Love Story
Wow. Just… wow. I had a hunch I was going to love this book. But, people, I REALLY loved this book. Let me start out by saying that if you have not read Anna Karenina, this book may be a challenge. There are loads of references and veiled allegory to Anna K’s 19th century inspo. And yes, I just unironically employed the word “inspo” And yes, you too may find yourself adopting all the hippest-hoppitiest slang after reading this absolute treasure. It really is par for the course in a time and space where Vronsky has a tiktok account.
It’s easy to forget how young Tolstoy’s characters are in Anna Karenina since most of them were married and having kids. I think watching 16 and 17 year-olds make the same, ill-advised decisions as their infamous predecessors gives a glorious dose of truth and perspective to the maturity level of the group as a whole. Please consider that before holding it against the story. This story is best described, in my opinion as Gossip Girl with diversity and quality representation. In that regard, it was just about everything I wanted it to be.
I appreciate how much of Anna K: A Love Story remains true to Tolstoy’s original work. The themes, names and character traits are all genuinely respected. That being said, I equally admire the creative license taken by Jenny Lee in contextualizing things that wouldn’t easily translate into a 21st century novel. And, being now wholly invested in everyone’s plots and subplots, I am beyond excited to read the sequel when it’s released later this year. I have so much more to say on that front, but am hesitant to do so for fear of giving things away!
✨ Rep in this book: Korean protagonist, Own stories
✨ Content warnings for this book: thoughts of self harm, car accident, drug addiction and drug use, revenge porn, sex, death of a partner, death of a family member
About the Author: Jenny Lee
Jenny Lee is a television writer and producer who has worked on BET’s Boomerang, IFC’s Brockmire, Freeform’s Young & Hungry, and the Disney Channel’s number-one-rated kids’ show, Shake It Up. Jenny has previously published humor essay collections and middle-grade novels, and Anna K. is her debut YA novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and 135-pound Newfoundland, Gemma (and yes, it’s a toss-up on who’s walking who every day). (copied from the author’s personal website.)
Personal note: girl on most of the negative reviews I’ve read about this book
I am frankly baffled by anyone whose chief complaint against this book is that the content is superficial. I get it, it’s annoying to hear about the “problems” of a group of super privileged (mostly white) teenagers with outrageous sums of money at their disposal. Honestly, though, a primary theme of the original story was that these people are out of touch. That is literally THE parallel that’s being made with the modern setting. I mean, who was more out of touch than the Russian Aristocracy? Like, move aside, France. In my opinion, it was brilliant of Jenny Lee to translate that into present day Manhattan.