In Jenny Lee’s retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, wealthy East Coast teen Anna K trades her staid, old-money lifestyle for ever-increasing risks and romance.
Anna’s longtime boyfriend, Alexander W., is perfect, if a bit stuffy. Independent-minded Anna doesn’t mind that he’s away at college. Her horses and show dogs keep her occupied in Greenwich, away from the rich-kid antics often led by her brother, Steven, in New York City. But when Steven’s girlfriend discovers he’s been cheating on her, Anna rushes to the city to run interference.
At the train station, she encounters the notorious playboy Alexia “Count” Vronsky, and the trajectory of her life, which she has planned out in meticulous detail, begins to wobble. As other dramas unfold around them, Anna and Vronsky are powerless in the face of their intense chemistry. In a world where reputation is everything, will Anna survive her life-changing love story?
TV writer and middle grade novelist Lee skillfully weaves beats of the classic Russian novel into the contemporary plot of her first YA novel, but readers will need no previous knowledge of Tolstoy to appreciate the social stakes, heartbreak, humor and moral complexity of Anna K. Wonderfully observed details of characters’ clothing, music, technology and slang add to the immersive, effortless flow of these teens’ glittering world, and secondary characters shine as they deal with their own family issues.
While its melodrama is high and the tragedy of the source material looms large, Lee’s version, tweaked and updated for today’s teens, makes for addictive reading.