Book Review: Anna K by Jenny Lee

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (lust) Other PS 2020 reading prompts this ...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (lust)

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A book about or involving social media, A book by a WOC

TW: Heavy drug and alcohol usage, overdose, talks of suicide, animal death, some violence, death, mention of abortion, infidelity, racism, sexism, classism, heavy sexual content (teenagers), unclear consent

February was one of my favorite months ever for Book of the Month. The picks were amazing, and for the first time ever I filled my box up with three picks - one being Anna K, a modern day retelling of Anna Karenina. I've never read Tolstoy's classic, but I was sold with a YA novel about rich teens with a Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians vibe.

Anna K is rich, beautiful, and about as perfect as can be. By her side, she's got the perfect boyfriend, Alexander W (the Greenwich OG). But when she meets Alexia Vronsky (Count Vronsky), it flips her love life upside down. Meanwhile, Anna's brother Steven is cheating on his girlfriend Lolly. And Lolly's little sister Kimmie is in love with Vronsky. And Steven's tutor Dustin is in love with Kimmie. It's all basically a teenage modern day soap opera. 

I kind of underestimated how much I would love this book. I've never read the original Anna Karenina, and truly had no idea what it was even about. I'm not one to read much classic literature, but I really love YA lit, and I'm particularly fond of Korean-American YA. For some reason, it's in a league all its own. It's a little outlandish at times and very much nothing like my life (Anna K and Permanent Record, off the top of my head, are both based on insane situations that would never happen to someone like me), but there are also so many realistic, emotional elements that immerse you into the story because you connect with the characters even though their lifestyles are so different.

I was also really pleased with the representation in the book. The main characters are Korean-American, Black, and White. Most of the characters are very well-off, upper-class Manhattanites, but there are also characters who are more middle-class and also astounded with the people their surrounded with. The characters are heartbroken, confused, flawed, forgiving, manipulative, addicted, etc.

Yes, there are a lot of trigger warnings listed above, but that's because the book handles a lot of different and difficult situations, though throughout most of the book, characters develop and grow based on their indiscretions (mostly). A lot of the issues brought to light in the book are not necessarily portrayed positively - that is to say, even though they happen often in the story, the writing doesn't condone them. For example, I typically really dislike a book when cheating on a SO is a heavy or main theme, and it is one of the largest themes in this book. But I didn't hate this book. I loved it. And I think it's because Jenny Lee's writing is done so well, and is so phenomenal. Anna K is actually her debut novel, as she has a background in screenwriting, which is pretty obvious when reading this novel.

My biggest complaints - the book is quite hard to get into at first. It starts with a character list, so immediately I was like "Oh, geez. This will be confusing," and the first quarter of the book was very confusing. There were so many characters being introduced and they're all connected in different ways and I thought I would never get it. But eventually, it just became natural to know everyone and who they were in relation to everyone else. I'm telling you, the character development and their individual stories are so enthralling, that even without necessarily liking them, you'll connect with them. It's glorious.

My second complaint is a bit more serious. For a book about teenagers galavanting around with virtually no supervision, and the glorification of sex (which is totally fine), there's hardly mention of safe sex, which I found to be concerning. This book is YA, about teenagers, and likely to be read by teenagers, but the sex piece should bring more focus to birth control, condoms, etc. The drug and alcohol issues are addressed, but the safe sex is important, and I wish it was more prevalent within the story.

"But sometimes he knew it was best to believe the stories you told yourself in order to get through a day. After all, didn't the cornerstone of sober living preach getting through life one day at a time?" - Anna K, Jenny Lee

Overall, I really loved this book. I've never read Anna Karenina, and probably never will (hello, it's as long as a Stephen King-er), but that didn't take away from Anna K AT. ALL. In fact, maybe it made my experience better? The characters were hard to keep track of at first, but once I was into the story, I was able to figure it out no problem. Though the situations and individuals were far from my real life, I really connected with and learned to enjoy them, flaws and all. This story is slightly smutty, and super fun, but also really deep and dark at times. There's definitely more than meets the eye when it comes to this novel. The book didn't end how I wanted, or how I expected, but it ended really well and I felt a sense of satisfaction, if not happiness, when I closed the final pages, sobbing. I would encourage readers to be mindful when reading Anna K (based on trigger warnings), but if it's something you can handle, I would say "Go for it!" It's one wild ride of a book.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

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