Privileged New York teens navigate love, tragedy, and scandal in this modern retelling of Anna Karenina.

Anna K Book Review

At seventeen, Anna K is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society with a perfect boyfriend, Alexander W. Her Korean-American father is proud of her; her older brother Steven lives the high life in New York City with his partying and sex-tape-chasing girlfriend, Lolly.

When she meets dashing Count Vronsky, Anna knows it could derail her sterling reputation. This YA retelling is part Anna Karenina, part Gossip Girl.

The Story

Anna K is a 17-year-old high school heiress at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers her horses and Newfoundland dogs); her OG boyfriend Alexander lives up to his prestigious socialite family name; and she’s always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling).

Lee tries hard to mirror Tolstoy’s classic in this YA retelling, and there are some nice touches here that make it feel more modern than your typical teen drama. But she also tries to cling to the narrative structure too closely, resulting in avoidable plot holes and some major mood whiplash.

There’s betrayal, heartbreak, family drama, tons of partying and drinking, a sex tape, and a major tragedy in this uneven teen remake of Tolstoy’s classic. Fans of Gossip Girl and Keeping Up With the Kardashians will be right at home.

The Characters

There’s betrayal, heartbreak, family drama, lots of partying and drinking, a sex tape and a major tragedy in this uneven teen retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic. Readers who love Gossip Girl and never miss an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians will enjoy this book.

The main characters are all affluent Manhattan kids who attend prestigious prep schools. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. I really enjoyed getting to know all the characters, especially Anna, Steven (Anna’s brother), Lolly, Kimmie, and Dustin.

I liked that the book addressed several issues that are important to teens, such as racism, social standing and wealth, sexism, and mental health. The book also explores the nature of relationships, particularly in terms of how they are influenced by culture and upbringing.

The Writing

Jenny Lee’s smart adaptation of Anna Karenina doesn’t require a knowledge of the classic Russian novel. She updates the story to modern teen culture with slang, technology and music. She also captures the way that New York City teens live – the intoxicating social life and pressure to conform.

There is a lot of betrayal and heartbreak in this book along with plenty of partying, drinking, drugs and sex. But there is also a major tragedy and a lot of moral complexity.

Fans of Gossip Girl and Keeping Up With the Kardashians will love this retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic. It’s not perfect, and the characters do grate on your nerves at times. But if you can forgive the vapid privileged characters, the superficial love stories and the annoying sexual stereotypes, it is an enjoyable read.

Overall

While some may see Anna K as a shallow tale of intoxicating love and privileged New York lifestyles, the book’s characters are real and their problems feel authentic. Lee skillfully weaves beats from Tolstoy’s classic into her contemporary plot and updates the story with modern teen issues. Readers need not have read Tolstoy to enjoy this retelling as it’s accessible and engaging, with enough humor, heartbreak and moral complexity to hold interest.

Fans of Gossip Girl and Keeping Up with the Kardashians will be drawn into the drama, scandal and opulent world of the super-elite teens in this fresh, savvy, fearless first novel. Families can discuss whether the story glamorizes these teens’ hard partying lifestyle or shows how easy it is for drugs and casual sex to spiral out of control. With plenty of betrayal, heartbreak and family tragedy, this is a Tolstoy classic with an edgy, modern twist.

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