You know those books you keep hearing about, but never read? That’s me and Anna Karenina. When I saw Anna K, which is a modern re-telling plus features a diverse cast of characters I knew this was my time! Anna K takes place in New York City and gave me serious Gossip Girl vibes. Keep reading to find out what I thought of this ambitious retelling!
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.
Love and heartbreak, Anna K has it all. That turbulent stop-in-the-street feeling. The tumultuous will-they-won’t-they on an epic scale. Maintaining the drama of Anna Karenina and the sheer volume, Anna K is a book that celebrates holding tight to love and never letting go. Featuring a cast of diverse characters – Anna and her brother Steven are both biracial Korean American, and their friend Dustin is black and adopted – Anna K takes place in New York and Connecticut among the wealthy elite. We’re talking horse riding and old money society.
At the beginning of Anna K, it was a tad difficult to get into because of the multiple POVs and the sheer number of characters who are all interlinked in various ways. The wealth and the ways in which all these teens are connected is definitely responsible for some of the Gossip Girl vibes! Throughout Anna K, some of my favorite elements were: the character growth of Anna, the way her parents talk about being an interracial couple, and Dustin’s whole story.
Anna and Love
I loved how much agency Anna was given in Anna K. As I said, I’ve never read the original, but I assumed from what I’ve heard, that Anna does not have as much free will. Part of this could be the vastly different setting and time periods, but Anna’s character growth and space allows her to flourish. Through Anna’s life, we are able to see all the ways in which people are in relationships with love.
The expectations we have and what happens when we break them. Do we use people for our fear of being alone? Our desire to be wanted? There are times when love can strike light lightning, sudden and unprovoked. And you can never go back to the moment before. The various characters all handle love in their own ways, whether it be through forgiveness, the love we have for family, or the love we deny no matter how hard we try.
At the same time, it was a bit difficult for me to become completely absorbed in the book. While there were so many things I loved about the writing, like the way Lee interacts with the story and the original, the number of POVs were staggering at the beginning. When we kept flipping, I almost felt like I couldn’t spend enough time with them to become connected. This eventually evened out as I figured out who was who, but it made it difficult to immediately fall in love with the book.
Emma from Miss Print also made me aware of some instances of racially insensitive language in the ARC, “In both instances the book leans into Native American stereotypes and cultural appropriation. I have spoken with the editor about this and can confirm that these issues will be addressed and corrected in future printings of the book”. Thank you Emma!
Anna K is a book that asks readers about the power of love. Anyone who loves those epic classic angst filled love stories will adore Anna K – especially if you liked that vibe from Gossip Girl. I can see my teen self eating this up! We are asked if we can deny love. It’s a force that cannot be reckoned with and is never one to listen to reason.