Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Source: Library

Summary: 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.

I picked up Lola and the Boy Next Door because of just how good Stephanie Perkins's debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss, was. Not to mention that I found it on the library's new bookshelves and found it entirely unfortunate that it was checked in despite being brand new for only a week. It was that I'm-grateful-that-it's-here-but-what-kind-of-town-do-I-live-in-where-this-is-actually-in thing that Lorelai from Gilmore Girls describes in regards to the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I started Lola as soon as I was finished reading Anna, though I hesitated a bit. My first thought was that after Lola, there wasn't going to be another Stephanie Perkins novel for me to read until Isla and the Happily Ever After comes out next December. My second thought was what if Lola isn't as good as Anna? I didn't want to wreck my brand new love for Stephanie Perkins with a lackluster second novel. I somehow managed to shove this disgusting display of overthinking aside and just read the damn thing.
GOOD NEWS: Lola and the Boy Next Door is just as good as Anna and the French Kiss. All of the overthinking was for nothing. Lola and the Boy Next Door tells the tale of Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell, the boy next door that she grew up with. They courted one another a few years prior, but through a misunderstanding caused by his sister, Calliope, and the Bell family’s tendency to move, they were never able to explore a real relationship. Lola, who considered her life pre-Bell family return to be perfect, with her angry rock star boyfriend and plans to create an outlandish Marie Antoinette-inspired gown for the prom, resents this rocking of the proverbial boat. Cricket is no longer the quiet, always-adjustable brother in his sister’s shadow; instead he is attending college a year early and knows what he wants: Lola. He is never pushy about this, just painstakingly honest about his feelings. His feelings cause Lola to question everything and make some much needed changes in her life—changes to her relationship with her boyfriend, changes to her relationship with Cricket, even changes to her relationships with her two fathers and her birth mother.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like Lola as much as I liked Anna. Anna was incredibly down to Earth and it didn’t quite seem like Lola was the same way. Lola Nolan was truly devoted to costumes, committing to not wear the same thing twice. She seemed like she wanted to grow up too fast—she had a relationship with an older guy, seemed to have rushed into losing her virginity with him to prove that she was old enough to, and wanted to be done with high school so she could focus on her “real” life. In a work by another author, maybe these facts would have deterred me from sympathizing with a character, but not in anything by Stephanie Perkins. Lola was just as lovable as Anna, even though the two were incredibly different people. Lola’s theatricality was simply part of her bright spirit—it never seemed forced to me. She was a thoroughly unique character without her quirks being shoved down the readers’ throats. I suppose that is what makes Perkins different from many other contemporary writers—her characters are memorable and quirky, but believably so. She doesn’t make them too over-the-top. This is saying something, considering at the moment I’m writing about a girl who wears brightly colored wigs and dresses made out from picnic blankets and a boy named Cricket that is widely known in the space of the book as a budding inventor.
Speaking of Cricket Bell, what a perfect male lead. And once again, as I’ve written before, perfect male leads to me lack perfection. Cricket Bell was unswervingly honest about his devotion to Lola, in spite of the fact that he had every reason to hide it. She had a (douchey) boyfriend and had rebuffed him in his declaration of love and attempts to be friends in the past. He never holds anything against her. But in the past, Cricket Bell lacked courage. He didn’t stand up to his pushy sister, Calliope, leading to the misunderstanding that hurt both himself and Lola for quite some time. Also, it was nice to see the fantastic male lead be a science-oriented inventor rather than a rock star. Don’t get me wrong, I love guys in bands (in real life), but this was something totally different to me in the world of young adult. It wasn’t exactly the geek gets the girl either, nothing about Cricket screamed “geek” to me. The characters are fully themselves, rather than an easy label/stereotype.
In writing previous characters into Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins did a brilliant thing: she wrote Anna and St. Clair into the story, rather than having them make simple cameos. Anna and St. Clair were Lola’s co-workers and friends at the movie theater in which they all worked. St. Clair was also Cricket’s friend, as they lived in the same building at the college they attended. St. Clair and Anna do what they can to make Lola see that her boyfriend is not right for her and that Cricket does in fact care for her, but they are not overbearing. They were in the story just the right amount to make it known that the books were connected, but not so much as to overtake the story of Lola and Cricket. I hope Perkins finds a way to do a similar thing with Isla and the Happily Ever After.
Of course, the book is not completely about Lola and Cricket’s impending relationship. They both have complicated family dynamics to worry about throughout the course of the novel—Cricket has his family’s obsession with his sister’s ice skating career to contend with, while Lola has a returning alcoholic (and sometimes drug addicted) birth mother and the fact that she broke her fathers' trust with which to deal. Lola’s father, Nathan, adopted her with his life partner Andy when his sister became pregnant and did not want to get an abortion. While Lola’s birth mother managed to kick the drug habit and her sketchy boyfriend, she never quite got her shit together and has a tendency to get kicked out of apartments. Perkins did quite well to demonstrate how complicated and straining family dynamics can prove to be. She also demonstrated that while people may not fit into the roles they are titled for, there are other ways for the characters to fit into one another’s lives that they previously did not consider.
Once again, Stephanie Perkins delivers a flawless contemporary work. With its vibrant, unique fashion designing/invention-prone/ice skating characters, Lola and the Boy Next Door provides a story about the return of a first love that could not disappoint if it tried. Highly recommended.

And now, to wait for Isla and the Happily Ever After

Rating: 5 – shelf of favorites status. BRILLIANT.

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