Teen Life

Anna K Book Review

At seventeen, Anna K has it all: the perfect reputation at her elite Manhattan and Greenwich school; the perfect (if boring) boyfriend Alexander W. She’s even made her Korean-American father proud.

But when she meets Count Vronsky, her life starts to spiral out of control. A modern YA retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic, full of sex, scandal and moral complexity.

The Story

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, anna k is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story. This contemporary adaptation follows 17-year-old Anna Kim and her sexy cast of friends, family and socialites as they struggle to juggle posh lifestyles, new friendships and the dizzying thrill of first love.

Featuring lots of partying, betrayal and a major tragedy, it’s perfect for fans of Gossip Girl and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Families can discuss whether they think the book glamorizes these teens’ lives or if it highlights some of the consequences of casual sex and drug abuse.

The book also does a good job of showing the issues of class and race. For example, Steven is half Korean and white while his girlfriend Lolly is black and Jewish. It shows how subtle racism can be and how it is a part of many people’s everyday lives. There is also a lot of cheating and problematic relationships.

The Characters

Among the cast of characters, we have Anna K, a 17-year-old beauty who seems to have it all: She is top of her Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers her horses and Newfoundland dogs), she has the perfect boyfriend, Alexander W, and she’s made her Korean-American father proud. But then she meets the dashing and irresistible Count Alexia Vronsky and her world flips upside down.

Lee expertly incorporates beats from Tolstoy’s classic with ease, and her characterizations are well-rounded and relatable. The cast of teens is incredibly diverse, and there’s an underlying message that everyone can relate to: the heartache of first love.

Meanwhile, Steven’s partying girlfriend, Lolly, struggles to rebalance her life after her sexting scandal; Dustin, Kimmie’s vivacious and naive little sister, tries to find love with a boy from theater camp; and Anna must choose whether or not she will continue pursuing her affair with Vronsky. In the end, the conflict is as old as time, but it feels fresh and believable.

The Writing

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, this sexy retelling of Anna Karenina is also a profound examination of race, class and wealth. Lee reinterprets Tolstoy with obvious affection and an appreciation of the framework of the original while still providing her own unique spin. She recasts Anna with a half-Korean-American heroine and sets her story alongside simultaneous plotlines that follow Steven’s longtime girlfriend Lolly, his tutor, Dustin, and Kimmie, an effortless beauty who learns that being pretty and rich isn’t always enough.

Part Anna Karenina, part Gossip Girl, this modern YA retelling features plenty of family drama, betrayal and heartbreak, as well as partying and some casual sex. Families can discuss whether this book glamorizes these teens’ lives or provides a realistic glimpse of real-life problems. And while there are some racially insensitive statements and a few instances of cultural appropriation, the overall writing is smart and savvy. Unlike some YA retellings this one really delivers.

The End

Ultimately, it’s a lighthearted and enjoyable read. The story works well in its own right, and despite some annoying sexual stereotypes, the themes of love, racism, social standing and wealth, and sexism are handled quite well.

Jenny Lee has a knack for writing YA and has done a great job of bringing Anna Karenina to life with modern settings and characters. However, by clinging so heavily to the original novel, she allows avoidable plot-holes to spout up from time to time (like the trains – why did they have to take trains when there are other vehicles that can get them around the city?).

Nevertheless, Anna K is a story most teens will relate to. It’s a story of highs and lows, risk and heartbreak, joy and sorrow. Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, this is a fresh and wickedly smart retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless classic.

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