Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Flamboyant dresser (and aspiring costume designer) Lola Nolan has two great parents, a super-sleuth best friend, and a sexy-rock-god-olda-boy for a boyfriend. Life is generally peachy, some tension between her parents and her tattooed Romeo notwithstanding, until the Bell twins return from parts unknown to reclaim the house next door. Lola has a tangled past with Calliope and Cricket Bell, and she’s none too pleased to see them back in her ‘hood. Our heroine spends the rest of the book making fabulous fashions and tremendous messes of all her relationships, but we all know she’ll end up with the right guy in the end. She just doesn’t know if that guy is Cricket or Max.
Stephanie Perkins wrote another book that has been crazy popular with the bloggers of late (Anna and the French Kiss) which I have not read for kind of a dumb reason. The book is set in Paris, but Perkins has never been there. I, on the other hand, spent some time studying in France in college. The absurdly romantic, rose-tinted and butter-scented portrait most people who have yet to visit Paris paint of the city really gets on my nerves. There is an entire syndrome, The Paris Syndrome, named for the crushing disappointment tourists feel on arriving in Paris to discover it is a dirty, crowded city just like L.A. or New York or Tokyo with all the attendant headaches and problems (and few free public bathrooms, even in stores). Interestingly, this syndrome is most often experienced by Japanese tourists. So I have avoided Perkins’ other novel due to this pet peeve, and I didn’t immediately connect her with Lola and the Boy Next Door.
How is this relevant? My brain clicked into action, connecting the two books, as I was reading the rather Disney-fied version of San Francisco (and Berkeley) in this novel. This author has terrible luck with me, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She at least attended college in S.F., and refrained from calling it “Frisco”, so many of the descriptions were accurate if a bit sanitized. So, there’s that.
The thing is, I like Disney. It’s cute. This book is also really cute. Lola didn’t quite click with me at first but “the boy”, Cricket Bell, was designed for me to love. Cricket is a socially awkward inventor who has sacrificed many of the rites of youth in order to support his Olympic-hopeful sister Calliope and her figure-skating career. A mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley, most of his interaction with Lola is confined to weekends. Lola has great, supportive, protective parents but some unusual origins that lead her into a bit of an identity crisis. When she finally won me over, about two-thirds of the way through, she reminded me of two literary gals: Dimple Lala with her identity issues, and Carmen with her ardent spirit. Lola feels things deeply, and Lola loves hard. It’s easy to see what draws her to rock-god Max, and it’s equally easy to see why he’s a pretty crappy choice of boyfriend for Lola.
Which leads me to what I really loved about Lola and the Boy Next Door: Cricket Bell is not perfect, but he is perfect for Lola Nolan. Anna and Etienne St. Clair, whom I gather are the couple formed in Anna and the French Kiss, play a role in Lola’s story. They are similarly imperfect people who are perfect for each other. A lot of YA romance sets up a sort of universally perfect boy who just happens to fall for the heroine, and of course she loves him already because he is perfect and everyone else wants him. That is so grating. Lola starts off with this “get the guy everyone wants” mentality, but as she grows as a person (resolving her issues, figuring what matters to her) she begins to recognize the specific things she wants to find in a relationship for her own particular happiness. Part of this is accomplished through her observation of Anna and Etienne’s relationship, a clever way for the author to develop Lola while giving fans of Anna and the French Kiss a mini-sequel.
Bonus: Stephanie Perkins is really, really good at writing the kissing bits. There are Max/Lola kisses and Cricket/Lola kisses in this book, and just like in real life each pairing has a different feel when they are alone together. Perkins does an outstanding job of capturing the high vibration of anticipation that characterizes young love (and lust), when parents so often get in the way.
All in all, this book was adorable. The descriptions of Lola’s costumes were great fun (though sometimes Perkins went overboard describing settings). The romance is perfectly paced, and there are plenty of meaty subplots to keep the novel from becoming a flighty teen bodice-ripper. Cricket is terribly lovable, and we see Lola’s lovableness through his eyes even though she can be absolutely awful at times (like any teenage girl). I’d recommend it to anyone, and I will probably buy a copy for my niece.
If anyone is curious, I do plan on reading Anna and the French Kiss now. Fictionalized Paris or not, I have every confidence that Perkins will win me over once more.