Anna, Lola, & Isla

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At the start of 2014 I made myself a challenge to explore more of the YA genre. I started to realise that the reason my reading slowed down so much over these past few years was that it was hard to jump from one complex fantasy world to another without some cool-down time. The solution to this was to fluff out my reading habits with some… well, that word exactly: fluff. So after moving to Madrid and just needing something simple and soppy (but still with quality writing, you can take the girl out of the English degree…), I decided I’d read a book I’d been hearing about for years: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I was an English girl in Spain, so the whole American in France thing appealed to me, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Anna was a cute book. It was simple enough that I could read it before bed after ten hours of class without getting a headache, but quality enough to actually keep me interested. I liked the protagonist, Anna, for the most part. Although I really hate the whole ‘we have known each other for two days and we are in love lol’ aesthetic that YA romance novels seem to revolve around. You’re not in love, you’re a child. I just take it with a spoonful of sugar and think that they’re gonna realise this in their early twenties and break up anyway, so I’ve learned to ignore these moments.  Her obsession with that guy back home was that really, an obsession. It was a weird little side plot that I could have done without, but the book overall kept me gripped enough to finish it in two sittings. St Clair seemed to be one of those too perfect YA boys, and I think if I would have read this book at 16, I would have loved him a lot more. But he just seemed like a bit of a twat really. The characters were a bit one dimensional, but I didn’t really start the book with high expectations, so I guess that’s okay. I liked it, which is the most important thing, but it’s definitely not a particularly memorable book.

The day after I finished the first book, I moved onto the second instalment: Lola and the Boy Next Door, which I guess you could say is a testament to the first book/series overall, because I liked it enough to continue. Going into Lola, I didn’t think I’d like it as much, but I actually think it turned out to be my favourite book of the series. I liked that their was actually some background already between Cricket and Lola. It definitely made the whole angst-y teenage love thing more believable. One of my main problems with Anna and Isla are that they aren’t really described in that much detail, probably so hordes of teenage girls can project themselves onto them à la Bella Swan from Twilight. But Lola was so out-there and so wacky, she became distinct. At first I thought I’d hate Lola because of how different and quirky she was, but it actually seemed believable and not too try hard, which was a pleasant surprise to me. Her relationship with Cricket definitely seemed more natural too, although it still did include traces of the whole ‘sooooo in love but we haven’t even kissed’ thing. I guess it helped that she’d had a crush on him when she was like five, so her delusions were a tad more believable. And even though I was rooting for them to get together, much like Anna and St Clair, they’re totally gonna break up in college. No doubt. I was also a fan of the integration with the first novel, the characters were important to the plot but the interactions didn’t feel forced as to link the two books somehow. It was actually kind of nice seeing how the characters were getting on, although I definitely found them both more insufferable in Lola than in Anna.

Then, following the pattern, the day after I finished book two, I started Isla and the Happily Ever After. I really thought I’d love this one. Paris is great, New York is great, Barcelona is close enough to Madrid that I’m gonna guess it’s great too. But I didn’t. This wasn’t a love story, it was an obsessive crush story. Even more than the other two were. Isla is jealous, fanatical, and actually kind of boring. I feel like I don’t know anything about her. Anna liked to review films, Lola wanted to be a designer, Isla liked… reading books about adventure? I get that her lack of direction in life was supposed to be some sort of plot point to make her ‘relationship’ with Josh even more ~*~spehsheeeeell~*~, but it really just came out like she was a one dimensional character whose only interest in life was this one guy. Even Josh, a character I quite liked in the first book, was just so bleh throughout this. Oh no I’m so privileged, my life is terrible waaaah. It wasn’t a real relationship, it was just a lot of talking about sex. ‘Yes, I’ve had sex… hey, let’s have sex… oh my god I can’t believe you were having sex with your ex-girlfriend when you were dating, how dare you?… let’s have sex some more and awkwardly call it making love’. Ugh, just stop.

Even in the first two books, the locations (Paris and San Francisco) seemed to be relevant to the story and actual plot points themselves. But this book had three locations, and I felt like none of them where relevant. The story could have been happening in London or Beijing or Melbourne. Except for the occasional references to landmarks, the places barely seemed important. I also mentioned that in Lola I liked the inclusion of the characters from Anna, but in Isla I felt the entire scene was really forced. And that part with St Clair and Anna? Give me a break. I get that it was a nice way to wrap up the trilogy, but come on. It was obviously my least favourite book of the three, and just felt kind of lazy. It still wasn’t terrible, especially compared to some YA romance I’ve (attempted to) read, but compared to its two predecessors, it just fell flat.

I think that Anna and St Clair will break up when they’re 22. They’ll be unhappy for about a year before that, but they’ll feel compelled to stay together to prove something to people. However, eventually, one of them is going to crack and they’ll have a super messy breakup. Lola and Cricket might have lasted the longest, because they seem the least obsessed with each other out of the three couples, but somewhere in her first or second year of college, Lola is gonna want to ‘see what’s out there’ or something and they’ll break up… probably some what mutually as I bet the feeling is mutual on both ends. Isla and Josh? If they manage to last the summer together, they’ll break up some time before they go home for Christmas. Isla will probably go crazy and start mailing bits of her hair to Josh and he’ll have to get a restraining order.

Overall though, the series is pretty good. I’d give the first two books four out of five stars, and the final one a mere three stars. I’d still encourage you to read them though, if not just to laugh out how quickly they think they’ve fallen in love.

Living Abroad: First Impressions & Things I’ve Learnt

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So I’ve been in Madrid for almost a month now, and although by no means does that make me an expert of all things expatriate, I have learnt a couple of things in my time here. So to procrastinate from studying for my exam next week and to waste some time until it’s an acceptable Spanish time to cook my frozen pizza (so international), I present to you a little curation of ways I’ve managed to stay alive until now.

1. Read Everything:

I don’t mean sitting inside, complaining about the heat, and spending hours reading trashy YA romance novels on my Nook– I mean read everything outside. Firstly I started this in an attempt to improve my abysmal Spanish, but I quickly realised that it would take a lot more than reading a couple of street signs to fix that train wreck. But it paid off in other ways, because I got a pretty good idea of locations and found it really easy to navigate around. I read Metro signs, shop signs, anything written next to something that looked cool– and it’s paid off, because I’m not even having to rely on my phone to get places now. ‘Oh, this is on Line 4… I can take it to x and get off at x!’ It’s definitely saved me a lot of stress, which takes me on to…

2. Don’t Panic:

If you ask anyone who knew me back home to describe me, a lot of the words would probably resemble ‘anxious, agitated, total complete scaredycat’, and it’s true. Back home I was a baby. The slightest little thing could set me off on a full blown panic attack. But in Madrid I’ve talked to new people, gotten lost in the early hours of the morning, set up phone contracts and bank accounts on my own, and pretty much just acted like a functioning human being… all without wanting to cry! And everything always worked out fine in the end. It’s really lame to say that I’m a ‘new me’ but in a lot of ways I am. I mean, in five days I’m going to be homeless and I’m not even panicking yet. That’s totally the Anti-Rosy.

3. Know Your Please and Thank Yous:

An obvious one, as we’re taught it as little kids, but it’s something that definitely transfers well to moving to a new country without knowing the language. If you’re ever in this situation, I have one piece of advice for you: be a three year old. Don’t cry and scream at throw food at people, but in other ways, become a child again. I am pretty much a Spanish three year old. I can count, say colours, and tell you some food that I like without using any proper sentence structure. The way I’ve been getting by in supermarkets, restaurants, and life in general is to just smile a lot and be polite. You know when you see parents tell their kid ‘say thank you’? Do that. To yourself. BE YOUR OWN PARENT AND THREE YEAR OLD. Even if I can’t understand 90% of what is going on around me, saying ‘gracias’, ‘por favor’, and ‘lo siento’ really does get you a long way– people will help you if you at least attempt the absolute basics of their language. Unless you’re the dick in the sandwich shop who didn’t understand what ‘is this vegetarian?’ meant even though I said it in Spanish. Rude.

4. Google Translate Is Your Friend:

The reason I am so good at talking about food in Spanish is because I spend the majority of my time outside reading menus and ingredients on anything I want to eat. Sure, I know what ham, chicken, and the like are, but Google Translate has really helped for the rest. You may look like a total douche stood outside the restaurant, typing every ingredient into your phone, but it pays off. I haven’t had any nasty surprises in my food so far, which was my biggest worry before coming to Spain. I eat a lot of vegetable sandwiches, cheese (never thought I’d complain about cheese, but there is so much cheese), and rice. So yeah, I may look like an annoying tourist, but whatever, I haven’t been harassed by ham in my salad yet (touch wood), so I guess I’m doing something right.

5. Don’t Forget Your Alone Time:

Moving to a new country alone is a weird experience. All of a sudden you’re thrust into this entire new social group where everyone is getting to know each other and exploring their new home. Which is great, and fun, and I totally recommend it. But don’t feel compelled to go somewhere because everyone else is. Sometimes you’ve just gotta refuel for a bit. Read a book, catch up on some TV, get an early night. For one thing, your bank balance will thank you, for another, it gives you time to reflect. I think if I’d have continued saying yes to every invitation that came my way, I would have been stuck in a loop of doing things I don’t really like. I didn’t like nightclubs in the UK and I’m not going to like them here, but I almost went to one in an attempt to fit in during my second week here. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t go. I may have missed out on some conversations the next Monday, but I retained some of my Rosy-ness. Introverted, TV-loving, constantly sleepy Rosy-ness. And now, almost a month into my time in Madrid, I’ve experienced both staying up until 4AM at street festivals and listening to the sounds of the city whilst I read a good book. Both excellent nights that I don’t regret.

So yeah. Maybe not the most articulate or useful thoughts, but when I first arrived in Spain I spent a few days googling for stuff like this and they all said the same thing. This is just something different on the topic. Overall, I’d say get shit done and be proactive, but also if you wanna stay in bed all day watching YouTube videos and eating cookies, then you go right ahead. You moved to another country on your own, you can do what you want.