Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank

Most teens dream of visiting the City of Lights, but it feels more like a nightmare for Sophie Brooks. She and her brother are sent to Paris to spend the summer with their father, who left home a year ago without any explanation. As if his sudden abandonment weren't betrayal enough, he's about to remarry, and they’re expected to play nice with his soon-to-be wife and stepdaughter. The stepdaughter, Camille, agrees to show them around the city, but she makes it clear that she will do everything in her power to make Sophie miserable.

Sophie could deal with all the pain and humiliation if only she could practice piano. Her dream is to become a pianist, and she was supposed to spend the summer preparing for a scholarship competition. Even though her father moved to Paris to pursue his own dream, he clearly doesn't support hers. His promise to provide her with a piano goes unfulfilled.

Still, no one is immune to Paris’s charm. After a few encounters with a gorgeous French boy, Sophie finds herself warming to the city, particularly when she discovers that he can help her practice piano. There’s just one hitch—he’s a friend of Camille’s, and Camille hates Sophie. While the summer Sophie dreaded promises to become best summer of her life, one person could ruin it all.

Rating: 1 Star

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think there are just a few too many of this type of book, where the girl goes away to a foreign country (usually France) for the summer or for a school year, has a romance, and things works out all nice and dandy. Maybe it's because of that, as well as a few other factors in this book in particular, that lead to this being a somewhat painful reading experience.

Sophie, the main character, started out being something of a disgusting character. She was acting like a petulant child when her plans for the summer fell through and by the time you're sixteen, while I get that you're still developing, I'd expect you to act a little more mature and not like a spoiled brat.

In the beginning I actually felt sorry for the stepsister Camille. Even though the summary says that she becomes something of a problem, and boy does she ever, at the beginning her reaction to Sophie's sudden appearance in her home is perfectly justified. Sophie's first action upon going to the room they're sharing? She goes through all of Camille's dresser drawers and closet, not even bothering to close the door behind her and leaving a dress hanging over it. I would've been angry too to begin with, but coming home to find this mess would've sent me over an edge.

Sophie only continued to annoy me. She and her brother were sent to spend the summer with their father and his new wife and her daughter, but they were allowed to bring a friend. Sophie's brother Eric brought his friend Dane first and Camille has been coerced into showing them around. One of the things they do is go to Notre Dame. I don't care how many architectural "wonders" you've seen, there's no way that you can compare a masterpiece like that cathedral to your seventeen year old brother's best friend. The actual quote: "But to be fair, Notre Dame didn't stand a chance against the beauty of Dane Wallace." Blech.

Things kind of plateaued at this point and not at a good point either. After the initial sympathy I felt for her, Camille turned into the stereotypical stepsister witch the summary promised, but the other characters seemed to flipflop their personalities from one moment to the next. One minute they're defensive of Camille and her actions, the next they say they shouldn't have listened to her, I'm so sorry Sophie. It was annoying because there didn't seem to be any real progress, no event that would explain the change in a normal person.

Another example of Sophie not really thinking of anyone but herself in regards to her piano playing (that being her special talent) is when her stepmother brings her home an electric keyboard instead of a piano which her father had mistakenly promised. She is infuriated because apparently there's a difference in the way the keys feel, but she doesn't take two things into consideration: 1) the logistics of getting the piano into their fourth/fifth floor apartment (#1 reason they can't get it - no way to do it!); 2) an electric keyboard costs around $100; a piano anywhere from $2000-3000. For something that she'll only be using for two months, you'd think she'd at least try to show some humility or thankfulness that her father at least tried and that her stepmother actually found a temporary solution, unsatisfactory to Sophie as it was.

The love interest situation was a weird one that left a bad taste in my metaphorical mouth. There were, at one point, three separate love interests. Granted one turns into a monster mess of monumental proportions, but that doesn't negate the fact that this goes beyond instalove or a love triangle. What's it called when there are three potential love interests for a girl, even if one does drop off?

And then the ending, the thing that for me was one of the most unbelievable parts of the book. Sophie wants to go to the Conservatoire de Seine for university, but is able to audition for a place in their high school program (which she somehow neglected to even know about until this summer). She auditions and, even though she thinks she bombs it because of some emotional turmoil at the time, she gets the spot! However, because of aforementioned emotional turmoil (i.e. a boy) she says no to this once in a lifetime opportunity and goes back to the States.

That I could almost forgive, but then in November she suddenly has a change of heart, calls the school to tell them this, and they accept her change of mind and allow her to start in the spring semester. NO SCHOOL in real life would let this happen, especially one as highly competitive as the Conservatoire de Seine is supposed to be. They're response would've been more along the lines of: you had a shot; we gave you a chance and you said no; we gave your spot to someone else who deserved it and said yes to the commitment.

The magical fairy tale happy ending was so unbelievable that I set the book aside afterwards with a look of disgust. I don't mind happy endings, but when it's a contemporary book, you've got to take the real world into consideration and a lot of the events in this book just seemed too out there.

There are better books written about similar situations than this one that would be worth your time, such as Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

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