Gossip Girl meets the Kardashians in a modern YA retelling of Anna Karenina filled with scandal, love, and partying.

Anna K Book Review

YA readers hungry for intoxicating love and scandal will enjoy this retelling of Anna Karenina, tweaked to fit privileged teens in Manhattan and Greenwich. Lee leans into the societal pressures of her characters, including familial expectations from Anna’s Korean-American father.

But when she meets Count Alexi Vronsky, the notorious playboy, she questions her whole lifestyle.

Theme

A modern retelling of Anna Karenina that’s part Gossip Girl, part Keeping Up With the Kardashians. There’s betrayal, heartbreak, family drama, a scandalous sex tape, and lots of drinking, drugs, and partying in this uneven teen remake.

Lee doesn’t hold on to the original’s heavy themes of social class, infidelity and repression but still manages to weave a story about privileged kids trying to figure out where they belong in the world. She also hits on some interesting issues that many teens struggle with – casual racism, interracial relationships and the pressure of living up to family expectations.

The story is compelling and believable but I found myself getting annoyed by some of the characters. For example, the use of trains – which was an important element in the original – became repetitive and just felt a bit unrealistic. Aside from that though, this is a great read! I would definitely recommend it to fans of Gossip Girl and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Plot

A dazzling reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story.

Jenny Lee is a smart writer and she does her best to keep the spirit of Tolstoy’s novel intact in this modern YA retelling of Anna Karenina. Some of the changes work, but others feel strained or awkward. For example, societal pressures have changed since Tolstoy wrote the book, so some of the familial expectations don’t work for this version.

Nevertheless, the novel’s characters and relationships are compelling. The story gets off to a slow start, but soon it’s hard to put down as the plot moves from party to heart-to-heart to Coachella.

The cast is diverse, with an emphasis on interracial couples and minor characters that reflect the diversity of New York City. There are some annoying sexual stereotypes, and the gratuitous drug abuse can be distracting, but overall Anna K is a good choice for a light-hearted read. Just be prepared for a lot of boring parties.

Characters

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K is a deliciously inventive reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s classic about love, betrayal, family drama, and lots of partying. It’s perfect for readers who love Gossip Girl and never miss an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

From Greenwich, Connecticut, to Manhattan’s elite prep schools, seventeen-year-old Anna K has it all: the perfect reputation, the OG boyfriend, and the life envied by many. But her world is shattered when a scandalous sex tape brings her down.

Lee has a good grasp of what it’s like to be a teen in New York City and gives her characters complexity that is refreshing for this genre. But her distant writing style and pervasive dropping of brand names slow the story down, causing it to stall at times. Also, gratuitous drug use feels off. Trains were cutting edge in the original, but they’re not that important to this story, and a casual mention of taking a pill is just distracting.

Overall

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story—but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.

At seventeen, Anna is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect if somewhat boring boyfriend; and she always makes her Korean-American father proud—though he can be a bit controlling.

With betrayal, family drama, partying, drugs, a sex tape and major tragedy, this modern YA retelling of Anna Karenina will enthrall readers who can’t stop watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Gossip Girl. Lee does a great job of updating the beats and style of Tolstoy while allowing her own voice to shine through. But clinging so tightly to the original story allowed some avoidable plot holes to emerge and gave me some major mood whiplash.

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