Review Blog

Apr 24 2020

Anna K by Jenny Lee

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241420218. 400pp.
(Age: Adult - Older adolescents) This is a story of rich adolescents who attend wealthy schools, who like to party often and hard, using drugs to enable an even wilder time and who like to stay out until the early hours of the morning. Everything they wear is named for its designer brand, as are their accessories and the cars that they drive. They only shop in the most expensive stores in the city of New York, and their social lives seem to be set in the best clubs, where they drink, and use drugs freely, and party, often, until the early hours of the morning.
While this story is about these young people's desire to party, attending school is recognized as being very important in leading on to their future and thus their careers. In this intense narrative we are drawn into the frenetic lives of Anna, an exceptional young woman who falls in love with "Count" Alexi Vronsky, learning about their high level of competition, that is, to be the best, or to have the best, in everything they do. Parents seem to figure in their lives to a small degree, being busy making money themselves.
Money is at the heart of this novel, and its presence fuels both the lifestyle, the choices, the futures, and, sadly indeed, the disasters. While these party people face the challenge to do well enough at school to enable them to go to the best colleges and universities, one young man loses his way and his story is deeply saddening. This aspect reminds the reader of the dramatic aspects of the much-loved Russian epic tale that is reflected in Lee's book.
Overall, I found this to be a challenging novel. In that it is intended as an evocation of Tolstoy's Russian epic, Anna Karenina, we see how this novel serves as a reminder of some of the pitfalls that young people face, especially in a community where wealth creates a world of privilege. I would recommend this book as suitable for both adults and older adolescents. Lee's evocation of a past novel, one that was a powerful tome for its era, recreates the disturbing reality of the modern world in her depiction of one particular way of life.
Elizabeth Bondar

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