Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
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Oct 22, 11

bookshelves: 2011, romance, ya
Read in October, 2011 — I own a copy

As far as contemporary YA romance goes, you absolutely can't top Stephanie Perkins. And I don't say that lightly, especially considering how disappointed I've been with YA fiction over the last couple of years. Perkins writes with humour, clarity and consciousness, bringing to life wonderful heroines and turning their simple, everyday lives into deeply engrossing fiction.

Lola - short for Dolores - has been in love with Cricket Bell since she was five and he was six and he built her an elevator for her doll house. Now, she is deeply upset when her old neighbours, the Bell family, move back in after two years away. She's had two years to get over Cricket after their last disastrous parting, and now she has a boyfriend, rock musician Max, even if he's twenty-two and her parents disapprove of him. She's working on a full-scale, elaborate Marie Antoinette dress for the winter ball that she plans on wearing with platform combat boots, and life couldn't be better - if only her dads would ease up on Max.

Now the Bell twins - the beautiful figure skating queen Calliope and the tall, lanky inventor Cricket - are back and suddenly Cricket is everywhere she goes, looking at her with eyes that yearn. And this time, he makes it clear that he's interested in her. But Lola is sure she's in love with Max, that she's moved on emotionally - if only being with Cricket weren't so easy she'd be able to believe the lies she tells herself, that she's not still in love with the boy next door.

The only time I found myself comparing this to Perkins' debut, Anna and the French Kiss , was to note that it didn't have the witty banter of Anna, but this was hardly a point against it. It still has humour and a lightness, a freshness to the narrative that doesn't downplay the weightier issues touched upon. Lola and Cricket aren't Anna and St Clair, and you wouldn't be able to confuse them. I actually really liked that Anna and St Clair have minor roles in this story - they both work at the cinema where Lola has a part-time job, and St Clair lives in the same dormitory at the same university as Cricket; it helped me put aside their story and focus on Lola's, but it was also sweet to see them so strong together still.

Lola is a wonderful character, very much her own person. I loved that she is a designer, making her own clothes and always wearing "costumes", a different look every day, right down to the wig. She expresses her creativity and her talent, and when Max accuses her of being fake, that she's a different person every time he sees her and he doesn't know who she is, it's Cricket who understands that her outward expression is exactly who she is, and appreciate her for it. We all wear uniforms when we put clothes on, usually unconsciously - clothes that tell people how to read us, both our position in society (class) and something of our personality. Clothing is also armour, a shield to protect ourselves and take comfort in. Lola understands it well, and I loved the descriptions of her flamboyant outfits. She felt so real to me that I reacted to events in her life as if I knew her in real life.

It took me a bit longer to warm up to Cricket, only because Lola doesn't give us enough to go on at first - as she's the one narrating her story (in present tense, yes, one of my pet peeves, but it works here - at the very least, it's not distracting or awkward), when she first sees Cricket again it's not in a complimentary way, not the way Anna described St Clair. It's only as Lola lets Cricket be friends with her again that she starts letting slip the things about him that she admires and, yes, loves.

The story is real on multiple levels, not least how it handles the relationship between Lola and Max, that felt - not familiar, as I never had a relationship like that, but they were around me as many of my peers, as teens, went out with much older guys. It was rather icky, it's true, when you think of it from the men's perspective - it's not the number of years between them but the difference in their place in life. Being a high school student and a minor is so very different to being in your twenties, living independently etc. that you have to wonder what they have in common. To Max's credit, he didn't approach Lola because she was sixteen (at the time), and she did lie to him about her age. But when I see sixteen year olds around, they look so young that I have to wonder if I really believe Max. Anyway, her relationship with him, going back to his flat and losing her virginity, was pretty much exactly what I remember from those years, of the girls I knew anyway. (I'm not joking, I was a pretty boring teen.)

Then there are Lola's parents, Nathan and Andy, who, since they live in San Francisco, are nothing out of the ordinary in terms of same-sex parents. It's always refreshing to have a book present homosexuality as something normal, not even an issue but just the way it is (like Wildthorn , which I read before this). Considering that in America, only two - TWO! - states have legalised same-sex marriages and common-law unions, fiction is well-placed to help normalise homosexuality and homosexual relationships. Besides, Nathan and Andy are lovely, and being gay doesn't stop them from being pretty typical parents!

But this review wouldn't be complete without discussing the romance as well. Lola and Cricket are a couple you'll definitely cheer for, and I developed a real soft spot for Cricket. Perkins writes the romance side of things with a light hand, relying on well-placed descriptions of the way Cricket looks at Lola to convey almost everything that boy feels, and it makes you warm and gooey inside. She writes healthy teen relationships, not sudden loves based on lovely hair (if that's one of your Twilight gripes), and the boys are worth loving.

It doesn't matter whether you read this book first or Anna or the next one Perkins writes, you'll love these stories for the great characters, the wonderful writing, the sweet romance, the relevant teen issues deftly touched upon - there's no melodrama here, only a true-to-life story of a girl in love with the boy next door.
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