Anna K by Jenny Lee (Book Review)

Rating: ★★★★★

“Life’s not a bitch, it’s actually a dick. You’ve got to go out and kick it in the balls.”

Jenny Lee, Anna K

Genre: Modern Retelling

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 a 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.” -Goodreads

My Review

I cannot express in words how much I adore this book… but I will try my best. Everything about it was absolutely flawless, from the character development to the romance to even the general theme of the novel as a whole. This book truly paid homage to the fame and notoriety of Anna Karenina while also providing a realistic, modern twist on the classic tale.

Going into the book, I knew next to nothing about Anna Karenina other than the main character’s tragic end. However, only chapters into reading the book, I watched the Kiera Knightly movie rendition of the novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even after watching the movie and learning the original story, I continue to believe that Anna K does the book justice. I may have actually preferred it more.

One of the main things I like is the modernity of the novel. While the original story takes place in 19th century imperial Russia, particularly during a time when women had next to no rights, Anna K takes place in New York City’s upper east side and other surrounding areas, following teenagers instead of married adults. In other words, characters that had much fewer options in the Russian novel now have more avenues to get out of their unfortunate situations. The only option for a disgraced society woman isn’t death. Jenny Lee took this and completely ran with it, giving the book a lot more “self-care” themes that I appreciated.

These modern themes are particularly obvious in one of my favorite characters, Kimmie. Kimmie is essentially the girl Count Vronsky flirted with before he fell in love with Anna K. In the novel, Kimmie used to be an Olympic athlete, ending her career due to a tragic knee injury. In New York, she meets and subsequently falls in “love” with Vronsky, using him almost as a coping mechanism to her trauma. However, after he falls for Anna, he leaves Kimmie in the wayside. This is where the book somewhat veers away from the original text in the best way possible. While in the original, Kimmie is petty and hateful towards Anna until another (albeit better) man sweeps her off her feet, Jenny Lee’s novel takes a much more independent and therapeutic approach towards the jilted girl. Kimmie instead goes to therapy and learns more about herself, seeing herself as more independent and realizing that she didn’t need Vronsky to be happy. She found happiness within herself. Although Kimmie did end up with another character by the end of the book, she had found herself and become much more secure in her individualism by the end of her arc. This personality shift is part of what made her one of my all-time favorite characters.

Although it left many heartbroken in its dust, I could not help but adore Anna and Vronsky’s romance. From the first moment I met Vronsky and Anna’s boyfriend, “the Greenwich OG,” Alexander, I already shipped Anna and Vronsky, hoping that she would ditch her dry boyfriend for the clearly better alternative. Even though I was wary of his motivations, it was clear throughout the novel that Vronsky wholeheartedly devoted himself to Anna. He would’ve done just about anything for her and respected her as a woman and as a person. Furthermore, I found him romantic and willing to grow for his love interest. There was instant chemistry whenever Anna and Vronsky came in contact and I could not help but be swept away by the romance of their story, even if they were just high schoolers.

Anna herself was a fascinating character to dissect. She had this facade of being put together, the “better” sibling in the eyes of her father and the rest of society, but even if she seemed perfect, she was clearly suffering in her current relationship. It wasn’t that her boyfriend was a bad person. It was just that he wasn’t right for her anymore. I thought that this book flawlessly portrayed this notoriously complex character, portraying her caring sides, specifically her love for her brother and her dogs, along with the parts of her that make mistakes. Anna, although she seems perfectly proper and poised, is still a seventeen-year-old girl, and I think the novel’s ending clearly portrays her lapses in judgement in conflict with her poised persona.

Without going into detail, the ending truly impacted me not only as a reader but also as a person. It truly ingrained in me the importance of self-worth, especially in romantic and interpersonal relationships. Although the ending was tragic and unexpected, it still resonated with me and left me feeling bittersweet. This book will truly follow me for the rest of my life, as it resonated and became ingrained with many parts of my own personality. If I could give it six stars instead of five, I would.

Overall, Anna K perfectly retold Tolstoy’s famous novel, Anna Karenina, intertwining the classic storyline with modern development and ideology. I highly recommend this book if you like romance, personal growth, and endings that will make you sob like a baby (like me).