Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Release Date: September 29, 2011
Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.
When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.
Hello world, she's done it again. Stephanie Perkins has created complex, believable characters that make me wonder why I ever used to abhor Contemporary YA. Lola, Cricket, Max, Calliope, Lola's Dads and every character in this book felt fleshed out. That's one of the incredible things about Stephanie's writing: no character feels like a set piece or plot device. Like in Anna and the French Kiss (which, if you haven't read my review, I loved!), the characters were complex. No one was entirely lovable or blameless, but it was also really hard to fully villanize anyone--even when they acted terribly--because it was possible to understand why they were being irrational. Yes, that's how well formed these characters were.
The world, too, was wonderfully palpable. I have an absolute idea of what Lola's room, her house, her street, her work, and everything in between all look like. Once again, the setting of the book was an essential feature that added to, rather than pulled me out, of the book. There were no "Lord of the Fly-esque Million-page-landscape-descriptions" (ugh, don't get me started), rather the world seemed to just be sitting there, in complete HD, ready for me to hop on in.
I both enjoyed and was slightly uncomfortable with Lola's relationship with Max (she's 16 and he's 22 when they start dating), but the relationship was treated very fairly in the book. Don't get me wrong, I still seriously wanted to punch Max in the face. Repeatedly. But, I thought the portrayal of first love and Lola's desire to be and act older than she really is were both sensitively and realistically done. I also thought her relationship with Cricket was fun to watch re-blossom (they are so endearingly awkward, I couldn't help but giggle uncomfortably at multiple points myself).
I will say that this book did not come close to living up to Anna for me. I had a very serious issue with it that made it somewhat inaccessible. Lola feels so unbelievably young. I'm sure that part of this has to do with the fact that Anna is at boarding school and Lola is living with two very overbearing fathers (I mean, seriously! I can appreciate the love, but back off a little puh-leaze). Part of this is that she whines constantly. Most of this, though, really had to do with her relationships with Max and Cricket. Where as in Anna I understood what was keeping Etienne and Anna apart--even though it drove me crazy--in Lola there didn't seem to be any major obstacle other than Lola's own immaturity. I became very quickly frustrated with her constant denial and back-and-forthing, and unfortunately, this seemed to go on foreeeeevver. Maybe it's easier to excuse Etienne for staying with his girlfriend because he wasn't the narrator, maybe he was easier to excuse because I understood his fear of being alone. In any case, while I liked each character in the book, the experience was a little frustrating at times. As someone who is the same age as Max, I could not understand why he would date someone who acts like a child and lies like she breathes (though perhaps it is because he possesses an equal level of maturity development)....
Overall, I found Lola spunky and funny and I enjoyed the characterizations. I teared up during multiple scenes between her and her mother, and I absolutely ah-dored her quirky dads (when they weren't going psycho patrol-men). The writing is just as wonderfully crafted in this one, I just didn't like Lola as much as I liked Anna, which is entirely personal preference. My reservations about Lola's immaturity aside, there is a lot positive going for this book (eeee! sparkly costumes!) I give it 3.5 out of 5 Stars, and would recommend it to any reader. And besides, we get multiple cameos from Anna and Etienne!
Shannon McManus did a very good job with this one, and I would suggest it for anyone interested.