Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Available For Preorder Through The Book Depository: Anna K.
Cover Design: Erin Fitzsimmons
Summary: Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.
As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.
*Received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher* *CW: drug use *
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Anna K. is a YA Contemporary debut that puts a dazzling spin on Anna Karenina! This modern-day retelling, follows a group of wealthy teens as they navigate relationships and the drama that encompasses their lives. Lee builds a realistic and diverse cast of characters, while also layering deeper themes and issues!
From the very beginning, your introduced to a cast list of over 10 characters and although for me it seemed a bit intimidating at first, once you delve into the world of Anna K., you’ll see why this story just works so well being told from multiple POVs.
Let me tell you I was NOT expecting an ARC of this in the mail (so thanks so much to the publisher)! I’d been really looking forward to reading Anna K. after I’d seen its cover reveal last summer. There was just something about the glamour and intrigue of this modern look at Manhattan society that just had me wondering what was in-store for Anna K. and the rest of the crew!
Another thing, this is a modern-day of Anna Karenina and while I personally have never read it, I felt from what I do know about the story Lee did a fantastic job at really taking influences from the original, while making it completely her own. With the moments I felt aligned closely with Anna Karenina, I never felt taken out of the story either. (*I also recommend reading Jenny Lee’s beautiful author’s note at the end too!).
While Anna K. is our main character, the novel starts off with Lolly S. (17) and Steven K., Anna’s 18-year-old brother. With their anniversary shortly arriving, Lolly is thrilled! But, when she quickly learns Steven had been cheating on her, she’s rightfully furious.
Steven knows the only person who can attempt to reach Lolly is Anna K., but until she arrives we learn about Dustin L., Steven’s tutor, who’s an anxious, bookish kind of guy.
What made his character a nice contrast to others in our main cast, is that he’s not from the upper part of Manhattan society. He kind of acts as the level-headed one who helps out Steven, while also undergoing his own journey when he falls for Kimmie S., Lolly’s younger sister who’s going through some depression after getting injured and having to take a break from her professional ice skating.
The backstory is built mainly in the beginning of the story but there’s a lot of mystery to how it plays an important part in the novel. However, the further you read you better understand the history that all of these characters have and what ties them all together.
With so many POV’s, it was assumed that I might get kind of lost. But let me just say that the more pages that flew by, I absolutely fell in love with this flawed and very real cast! So much appreciation for Lee telling an expansive story through such distinct characters! The 3rd person perspective allowed for many layers/differing sides of these characters to be explored which added a unique depth to the world crafted in Anna K.!
As for other characters we also have Anna K.’s boyfriend Alexander W. & his sister Eleanor, Alexia Vronsky, known in their circle as a player and heartbreaker, and Beatrice D., Vronsky’s cousin.
Anna K. is the one in society who everyone sees as the perfect, flawless socialite of Greenwhich and Manhattan. She’s a skilled equestrian, has her college boyfriend Alexander, and has been fortunate enough to keep out of the internal drama that seems to plague much of her circle…however that’s about to change.
She meets Vronsky on her way to see Lolly and Steven at Grand Central and yet, the two seem to be instantly attracted to each other.
From there you see how threads of these characters connect, revealing their relationships, dynamics and secrets that they keep from each other. Lee really built the setting of upper society into a world of her own through its characters, their status, and the way they navigate their lives.
To me it felt like your not really supposed to agree with a lot of the drama, personalities and societal norms that goes on in their circle. So, I felt that’s what made me really immerse myself into characters worlds and their heads a lot more, because (at least from my perspective) your not really supposed to agree with a lot of what they get tangled up in. I loved that I didn’t always agree with these characters decisions, such as the status and enormous amount of privilege that they carry, seemingly unaware. Not always “liking” some of these characters made me connect to them on a much deeper level when you see how much baggage they carry and their attempts to change over the course of the story!
I won’t spoil what happens, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about Kimmie & Dustin in the beginning (Kimmie’s character, took a bit to get used to). I was surprised at how much their dynamic grew on me and I loved following both of their journeys!
The setting of this novel shows a world of opulence and privilege, where there’s this dual side filled with parties, drugs, and sex as the norm. When looking at it closer, I felt this story was essentially about wealthy teens, given little adult supervision, as they are left to grapple with complicated issues on their own.
From Anna’s perspective, hers is a journey to better understand what she wants out of life and figure out who she wants to become, as she navigates her relationship being with Vronsky, while not feeling ready to tell her distant boyfriend Alexander.
With the fact that Anna has never really involved herself in drama or gossip, there’s this urgency to her story that makes you understand her struggle to come to terms with her complicated love life. Through the worry of gossip, heightened expectations of her in society, and facing truths she isn’t even sure she’s ready to face…your rooting for Anna not only to figure it out, but learn what she’s looking for during this process. You also see how Vronsky changes as he realizes his feelings for Anna (though he has a lot to work on, you can still appreciate his growth).
I felt like Kimmie & Dustin’s relationship had a clear story arc that carries throughout the book which was so beautiful! Their story was one of healing, love, and friendship that gets developed through both perspectives.
There’s so many themes that I felt Lee layered through each of these characters from family to to privilege, love, loneliness, mental health/seeking therapy (beautifully explored through Kimmie’s POV!), and much more! It also challenges racism and double standards.
In regards to family you see these different sister and brother dynamics explored from Anna & Steven, including Kimmie & Lolly, also Dustin & Nicholas! Anna and Steven’s, in my opinion, was the more realistic and heartfelt. Through the obstacles they face, they are both there to uplift, help each other and have so much respect for one another― I can’t wait to see how their strong brother-sister dynamic is explored in future books!
I also felt that Dustin and Nicholas’s brother dynamic was explored so well and throughout the course of the story you see in the little moments they bond or remember when they were younger is what shows their love/care for each other. Throughout the novel, there’s a lot of flashbacks from their POVs that I felt their relationship had so much history to it. There was just something about how Lee layered their stories that made it really come to life.
I also loved how diverse this cast was: It mainly features Korean-American & biracial representation (Anna + her older brother Steven), Dustin, who’s Black, adopted & Jewish, and there’s there’s interracial couples! Anna K. also takes time to explore the Korean culture of the K. family from Anna’s perspective, Steven’s, and their parents.
Now onto more of the specifics that lowered my rating, though this book really left me feeling sad to say goodbye to these characters (& YES, I can’t wait for the sequel): First is the pacing! At first it was moving pretty quickly, but with so many detailed POVs it can’t help but be drawn out at points. I also wished there wasn’t *too much lingering on certain couples and their conflict, because it would have been much stronger to portray more personal, heartfelt development between them. For me personally, I felt the ending was a bit rushed, though I loved how it focused on Anna!
Anna K. is a modern-day retelling that at its core is about a group of teens trying to find happiness in their privileged, drama-filled lives! Featuring a diverse cast of characters, a variety of themes, this is a debut with a lot of hidden depth that subtly weaves itself into its pages! Lee’s retelling of Anna Karenina that hints at more to come!