October 25, 2013

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Everything about this moment is wrong. I'm supposed to be dressed in something glamorous and unique. We're supposed to be in a crowded room, his breath is supposed to catch when he sees me. I'll be laughing and he'll be drawn toward me as if by magnetic force. And I'll be surprised but uninterested to see him. [...] And I'll leave with my dignity restored, and Cricket will leave agonizing that he didn't go for me when he had the chance.
-from Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

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If you haven't read anything by Stephanie Perkins, I suggest you change that as quickly as possible. Lola and the Boy Next Door, a companion novel to Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss, is a bright, witty and in-depth exploration of the many facets of first love. Lola Nolan is as colorful as you get: her passion is outside-the-box fashion, she lives in San Francisco with her two gay dads and she's dating a hot indie rocker, Max. But when Cricket, the first boy who broke Lola's heart, moves back into the house next door, the color drains from Lola's life and she's forced to face her past. This book takes a strong look at identity while also amply exploring communication and familial relationships.

I think Lola and the Boy Next Door is the defining book that made me accept and appreciate companion novels. I am always so disappointed when I learn a book is a companion and not a sequel; case in point: the Graceling series. But in all instances where I've read a companion novel, I have loved it as much as its predecessor. In Lola and the Boy Next Door, Anna and St. Clair work at the same movie theater in San Francisco as Lola and are very present in the storyline; I think that makes Lola the best companion novel I have ever read because older characters are often present.

Similarly ever-present is Stephanie Perkins ability to create likable characters that feel like real people and always keep the story moving forward. I loved Lola, teeneaged-Danielle identified with her so much! I appreciate that Perkins characters are not perfect which make readers able to relate to them. Lola (much like Anna) toes the line of right-and-wrong and Perkins isn't afraid for her characters to feel their way through this line in order to write a fulfilling coming-of-age story. Without spoiling anything, at the climax of the story I really felt like I knew what Lola was experiencing, which is a testament to the storyline and the characters. The way Perkins poignantly describes fundamental experiences of growing up hit me hard. 

Furthermore, I enjoyed that Lola's dads are gay and that her family history is really complicated (again, teenaged-Danielle identified with this so much!). The way in which Lola's dads are written, it's not a "thing" it's just life, which was so refreshing! Instead of it being a huge commentary on same-sex relationships, it was treated with normalcy. I loved the modern family that Perkins crafted with two loving parents who gave Lola everything any teen girl needs: unconditional love, discipline, and boundaries with enough room to grow.

While I could write for hours about what I love about this book, I'll just mention one more thing: the setting of San Francisco! I understand that I was completely biased being that I've visited the city a lot in the past few years, but this book refers to so many real life places that it made me giddy! I'm familiar enough with San Francisco that I recognized almost every place Lola referenced; I've eaten pizza at Blondie's, I've bought a cookie at Hot Cookie, I've walked by The Castro sign and all around Lola's neighborhood. It was so much fun reading all of these references and feeling like I was inside the story. Consequently, it made me even more excited to visit Paris so that I could map out Anna and St. Clair's adventures! Who knew books could be decent travel guides?

The only flaw I found with this book was in Max; when Max and Lola are together, I understand his appeal enough to reconcile that they make a good pair. But when Lola and Cricket interacted I just couldn't understand why she would stick around with Max. Max was not written with enough appeal for me to "get" him. Although, maybe that's part of the story: that when you're seventeen you don't have to have a reason to date anyone, there are just too many feels to focus. I was easily able to suspend my feelings of indifference, but I wished I wanted to love Max more.

(Oh, and I hated the name Cricket. I'm sorry, I'm probably in the minority. But I hated that as a name.)

In writing reviews for over a year now I'm learning a lot about myself as a reader, especially what makes me love or not love a book. One marker that I measure a book by is its ability to make me feel like I'm not alone in maneuvering through any given experience; when a story hits you at your core because the author articulates something you weren't able to explain in your own words. Lola and the Boy Next Door is a perfect example of a book that articulates the collective feelings of what it meant for me to be a teenager. For that alone it has become one of my favorite books.

Bottom Line: If you've ever been a teenaged girl, read this after you finish Anna and the French Kiss! While you wouldn't know it from my review, I liked Anna a little bit better, but this book was still a fast favorite! 5/5 stars

1 comment:

  1. CRICKET IS SUCH AN AWFUL NAME! Especially for such an adorable character! I'm so glad you liked this one, too! I agree with loving the normalcy of her dads and the problems with her family. And Max is a tool, but I feel like it was one of those 17 and could relationships. I didn't even try to like him, oops! This book made me want to visit SF like crazy, it seems like such a fun place!

    I love when a story hits you and makes you feel less alone! I am so glad that this was one of those books for you!

    And ahhh we need Isla NOW, right? Do you think he will go to art school in SF? I don't remember where it is supposed to be set, or anything about it. I think she tweeted about editing it a few days ago, hopefully everything will go well and quickly!!


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