Anna K by Jenny Lee: A Refreshing Revamp of Classic Literature

November 24, 2021 Young Adult Fiction 2

Darling Bookworms,
You know how there are approximately thirty seven zillion different Jane Austen retellings? I almost always enjoy them, but when I don’t realize I’ve picked up yet another revamp of Pride and Prejudice, sometimes I get the teensiest bit cranky. There are other Austens! Plus, there remains a whole trove of other classics that could use a fresh twist. Jenny Lee understood this. She went, “dude, what would happen if Anna Karenina were a teenage girl?” And then she wrote this fantastic story full of flawed characters that stayed true to the spirit of the source material but also added, like, a lot of glitter? I AM OBSESSED.

Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.

I know what you’re thinking, you skeptical sweethearts. You’re thinking “ummmm but Anna Karenina was like super depressing and bleak, is this really a good idea?” You’re not wrong. Anna Karenina is bleak AF, and Jenny Lee didn’t Disney-fy her source material. Despite being a YA retelling, Anna K has the same intense vibes. The same forbidden love. The same tragic twists. (Well, almost the same, let’s not get spoilery here.) The titular Anna K is an outrageously wealthy teenager in the Manhattan social elite. Technically she lives in Greenwich, CT, where she attends a fancy school, but elite circles are pretty insular, and it’s only a train ride away from the city. (Oh yeah, a train ride. You know where this is going.) Anna is the daughter of a wealthy Korean businessman and an old money white East Coast socialite. She is the golden child: perfect persona, perfect student, perfect boyfriend. While on her way to the city to help mop up a mess her ne’er-do-well brother has made, she runs into Alexia “Count” Vronsky, and Cupid’s arrow hits them both straight in the butt. Vronsky is something of a scoundrel. He’s also extremely wealthy, and he has a well earned reputation as a playboy and hard partier. The two cannot stay away from each other, no matter how hard they try. They may not be in 19th Century Russia, but the social conventions they’re up against are significant. I seriously cannot get over how well this book did justice to the original Tolstoy while also being so innovative. Let’s be real- Tolstoy is A LOT. I S T R U G G L E D to get through Anna Karenina because Tolstoy’s prose is just so… sleep inducing. This was no mean feat! Brilliant. Witty. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. I may never be over it.

Um, spoiler alert? Anna K did not end the exact same way Anna Karenina did. Which means there was totally room for a sequel! Anna K Away follows a brokenhearted Anna on her quest to move on after tragedy. She embarks on a whirlwind travel schedule while her father attempts to talk her into finishing high school in South Korea. All the gloriously messy side characters we met in Anna K are still bumbling around, trying to make sense of their lives and their situations. Also, there’s K-Pop. You know what? I loved this sequel too. I mean, obviously the original Anna Karenina left things bleak and there was no follow up, but I really liked the way this book ended the story on a positive note. It’s not like everything is all sorted and happy (although, some of it is) but, well, it gives the reader some closure. Plus, I got attached to all these rich eccentric snobby weirdos in the first book and I’m happy I got to see what became of them. This second book was a lot less “classic literature retelling” and a lot more “contemporary YA about rich people,” but my tastes are eclectic and I loved them both.

At this point, I’d read just about any book Jenny Lee published. More Anna K books? Cool, I’d read them. Want to write a more fun version of Moby Dick? I’m down. Heck, I’d even read her version of Pride and Prejudice if she wanted to write it, despite my curmudgeonly opening. Seriously, folks, I’m going to need some of you to read this so that I have someone to talk about it with, OK?

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2 Responses to “Anna K by Jenny Lee: A Refreshing Revamp of Classic Literature”

  1. The Lucky Fish

    I must read this. I love Anna Karenina. And Tolstoy (I know,I know!)

    Is this a good time to confess that I’ve never read any Jane Austen?I did read that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies thing. Eek. Maybe I should do that this year

    • Katie Words for Worms

      I mean, I really love Austen, but not every author is going to be every reader’s jam, ESPECIALLY when it comes to classics. I’d say it’s worth at least giving Pride and Prejudice a try, sans zombies.

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