Even If You Haven't Read 'Anna Karenina,' You'll Love 'Anna K'

In March, Marie Claire read Jenny Lee's debut novel, 'Anna K.' See what the #ReadWithMC community thought about the book here.

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Although most of the #ReadWithMC community didn't read Anna Kareninathey were still totally obsessed with Anna K—Jenny Lee's modern retelling of Leo Tolstoy's classic and Marie Claire's March book club pick. Readers could tell Lee had an incredible time writing her debut YA novel, which follows wealthy teens in New York City while navigating heavy topics including drug addiction, depression, love, and relationships. Also, have you seen that gorgeous cover?

Gossip Girl comparisons were certainly made by readers, but that didn't take away from Lee's unique storytelling. Her incorporation of songs the characters were listening to even had one reader downloading a new Spotify playlist as soon as she put the novel down. Lee is in the process of adapting the book into an HBO Max series (the release date is TBD), where she'll work as the creator and writer—an excellent surprise for people who devoured the 400-page novel.

Here, readers share exactly what they loved about Anna K and how it will take your mind off of the unprecedented times we're living in right now.

"A few nights ago I stayed up really late to finish Anna K, and then slept through all my alarms in the morning. It’s a modern YA retelling of Anna Karenina, and I think it’s the first retelling of a classic that I’ve ever read and it made me want to read more. I’ve not read Anna Karenina yet, but I know the story and I know it ends tragically. And even though I read the book knowing it’ll end horribly, I couldn’t help but be captivated with the story and then feel miserable after it crashed and burned.

There were so many characters to keep track of, but I really enjoyed the multiple POVs. It gave a more well-rounded view of the whole story. Despite the fact that there was a lot of slang words used that felt out of place at times, the story was so addictive and I couldn’t stop reading. I think the author did a wonderful job of showing what it’s like to be a teen and also the darker parts of young adulthood like drug addiction, depression, personal identity, and heavy expectations from parents. Overall it was a pretty good book!" —@teacupbooks_

"I’ve never read Anna Karenina or watched the movie adaptations so I went into this retelling blindly, which made it so good! I would agree with the comparisons to Gossip Girl because it’s about NYC high society rich kids with plenty of sex, drugs, love, and drama." —@read.gram.repeat

"This month’s #ReadWithMC pick did not disappoint!! Loved this retelling of Anna Karenina! Let me first state that I have never read Anna Karenina so my review is just based on this retelling, but after reading Anna K, it ALMOST makes me want to pick up Anna Karenina and I do NOT typically like classics. This story had all the drama a la Gossip Girl and it definitely was so current—I think any older teen would love this book and yes, I would recommend this to older YA readers because of adult situations. It's a coming-of-age story with spoiled rich kids, but there are layers to them and while the cast of characters was numerous, they all felt really well developed. I loved the representation with aspects of the author's Korean-American culture woven into the narrative. The soundtrack to this book is off the chain! I made a Spotify playlist from all the songs referenced and found 22 amazing songs (mostly when they're in a club), but it gave such a fun vibe while reading. There is romance, partying, dogs (I know, random right?), shopping, sex and infidelity—a wild but absolutely fun ride!" —@readtotheend

"This author must have had a lot of fun writing this is one of the most common thoughts I had while reading Anna K by Jenny Lee (out March 3rd)—a fun, modern retelling of the classic Russian novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy that replaces members of Imperial Russian high society with the extremely privileged private school educated teenagers of New York City. Confession: I haven’t read the source material, but I have seen the 2012 Keira Knightley film. You don’t need to have any previous knowledge of either work to enjoy this juicy, enthralling book. I loved that this retelling featured a mostly Korean cast and while it’s an extremely fun book, contains insightful discussions on race, class, sex, and drug abuse, to name a few. It’s one of the first times in a while that I’ve read a 400-page book that went so quickly and that I didn’t want end." —@thejourneyofmybooks

"If Anna K doesn’t get your mind off of the fact that we’ve all been home for two weeks in our filthy pajamas and are finally going stir-crazy, then I’m not sure what else will. Anna K is the modern retelling of Anna Karenina that I didn’t know I needed until several days ago, and even though I’m (still) not finished with it, I’m going to go ahead and recommend it anyway. Especially if you found the original tough to get through." —@bookish.ashton

"The YA novel is a modern riff on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which I do love, even if I’ve gotten stalled on the long sections devoted to Levin the last two times I tried to re-read it. Thank you, @flatiron_books, for sending me the ARC! I am, as always, particularly excited to read from Asian diasporic writers." —@jjoongie

"I fell in love with Anna Karenina in a European Literature course in college. It was one (of the few) books that I actively read every chapter of, did research into, and became obsessed with while an English major. So the fact I was naturally drawn to this book shouldn’t seem surprising, but I actually didn’t connect that Anna K was a retelling of Anna Karenina until I started reading.⁣

Wow, let me tell you, as someone who will always have a soft spot for 'teen' lit, this one clicked all my buttons.

Wonderfully rounded characters? Check.⁣

A great plot line? Check⁣.

Some trashy elements? Check⁣.

A slow burning love story? Check⁣.

Diverse characters? Check⁣.

Anna K is the Russian novel set in modern day NYC—expect references to Hamilton, Taylor Swift, TikTok, and more. It brings up poignant questions about our society and how we treat each other. Sure there are elements that I can’t relate to—most characters spend money at rates I cannot imagine on items that cost more than 6-months of my pay—but that is a reality for some of these people. ⁣I think it helps to have at least a working knowledge of pop culture and New York geography, but it is also quite accessible. At any rate, it’s compared to Gossip Girl and I liked it much, much more.⁣" —@relapsedbookworm

Missed out on our March book club pick? In April, we'll be reading Rebecca Serle's New York Times bestselling novel, In Five Years. Read an exclusive excerpt of the book here.

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(Image credit: Design by Morgan McMullen)
Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.