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.
Lee’s adaptation is clever ... one need not have read Tolstoy’s novel to understand or enjoy Anna K. It’s a story most teens can relate to: the pressure to fit in and to figure out when to follow their friends and when to stand up for themselves ... Lee gives Anna more hope at the end of her book...than Tolstoy gave Anna Karenina, yet Anna K is not without its heartbreaks and tragedies. And while Lee has an accurate pulse on teen issues, especially those in New York, the gratuitous drug abuse can seem distracting, particularly during the first half of the book ... the only characters that really suffer from drug abuse are those who are marginalized and low-income. Nonetheless, Lee has written an entertaining novel in the tradition of Crazy Rich Asians (with a mostly white cast) for teens.
Anna Karenina gets a Gossip Girl–infused reboot in Lee’s debut YA novel, which embraces the original novel’s vast cast and slow-burn pace. A distant third-person narrator may alienate some readers initially, but high stakes and the lavishness (and bad behavior) of elite Manhattanites will soon win them over. A twist ending will shock even the most devoted of Tolstoy fans—but that’s one secret we’ll never tell.