Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
September 29, 2011; Dutton
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Stephanie Perkins has created a formula for the perfect romance novel. Part of me wonders if she actually has a physical formula written down. Why? Because Lola and the Boy Next Door has so many of the same elements that made Anna and the French Kiss wonderful. The comparisons between Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door aren't obvious. You have to carefully break each book down into elements: setting, very well developed secondary characters, flawed but lovable main characters, conflict, squeal-inducing romance. On the surface, the two books are very different, but if you read carefully, you'll notice a lot of things in common. Part of me is disappointed by the formulaic feel. But another part is really impressed. Stephanie figured out just what makes a romance novel work and how to take significantly different plots and characters and fit both into the formula.
Lola makes and breaks this book for me. I love Lola's vivacity. I love how she is an accomplished seamstress and is obsessed with costumes. Her costumes make her personality shine while also masking a deep-seeded insecurity. She is also stubborn, self-righteous, and quick to jump to conclusions. A fairly normal teen. Overall, she is a more engaging character than Anna. I'll address my problems with her in the conflict section.
Cricket. I can't say his name without a little squeal. What a fabulous guy! He's as nice as can be. Awkward and nerdy. A little insecure. Very patient. I love that, despite being a freshman in college, he's more "boyish" than many of the typical YA "men."
Conflict: Three's a crowd. In Anna, Etienne's girlfriend was the conflict. In Lola, it's Lola's boyfriend. Lola is dating Max, a hip, indie rockstar in his early 20s. This is the main problem I had with Lola. Not that her relationship wasn't written well. Rather, I spent a good portion of the book wanting to use said book to slap Lola upside the head. Lola and Max exemplify why teenage girls should not date older guys. Lola loses herself around Max. She hero-worships him. If Max told her that she doesn't look good in pink, she'd throw away every pink outfit she had, even if it was her favorite color. I see why she likes him - he's sexy, charming, and talented. But Max is a jerk - controlling, self-righteous, arrogant. The type of guy who thinks it's cool to mold a young girl into what he wants her to be. Lola isn't old enough or self-confident enough to recognize that for a long time. I thought Lola's relationship with her boyfriend was very realistic, but it was hard to read.
Well Developed Secondary Characters: Anna focused on friends, as one expects in a boarding school setting. The strongest characters in Lola are her parents: her dads Nathan and Andy and her mom Norah. This is the first book I've read where a character's parents were gay. I loved how their "differentness" wasn't a plot point in Lola. They were fabulous parents who happened to be gay. Nathan and Andy are attentive dads, funny, caring, thoughtful, and have raised Lola to shine. I loved how close Lola was to her parents. Lola's ne'er-do-well biological mother easily could have been a flat, loser character, but we see that she is neither good nor bad. There are also good friend characters. Lola's best friend Lindsay was fabulous. Funny, loyal, and quirky yet she avoided the crazy best friend stereotype. I also found Calliope, Cricket's twin sister, to be a layered, if not likable character.
Romance: Just as sweet as in Anna! The perfect mixture of friendship and passion. We get to know each character before anything happens. Unlike most YA novels, we witness the build-up. No insta-love. Technically, Lola and Cricket have had a thing for each other their whole lives, but their relationship slowly changes from a stand-off, to friendship, to romance. It feels like something that could actually occur in real life. I like that the romance isn't entirely hot and heavy. It's sweet and touching more than anything else.
Companion: Stephanie Perkins understands the definition of a companion novel! Anna and Etienne are characters in Lola. But it's not a disguised sequel. They add another layer to the story. The book would function fine without them, but it's better because they're there. They never try to steal Lola and Cricket's thunder.
Setting: Love the San Francisco setting. It doesn't have the depth that Paris did in Anna, but Lola highlights some of the quirky sides of San Francisco that you don't normally see.
If I had to choose between Lola and the Boy Next Door and Anna and the French Kiss, I'd probably choose Anna. I like Lola better than Anna, but I like Etienne a little better than Cricket (is that blasphemy?). I love how Lola and Anna feel very similar yet entirely different. Lola and the Boy Next Door is a sweet story with fun characters, fabulous romance, and a great plot that will immediately hook you. Just like Lola the girl, Lola and the Boy Next Door is glowing neon and full of life.