Title Lola and the Boy Next Door
Series Anna and the French Kiss #02
Author Stephanie Perkins
Genre Young Adult Romance
Publisher Dutton Books
Publication Date September 29, 2011
Synopsis: Lola Nolan is an aspiring fashion designer with grand, over-the-top concepts that sort of define her personality. She is also a good daughter, a good enough student to keep her parents satisfied, a good friend most of the time, a fairly good employee at the movie theater where she works part-time and a pretty good girlfriend to keep her rocker boyfriend Max interested. Too bad her love interest does not fully suit the rest of her world. But Lola gets by juggling between Max and all her other responsibilities. Until the dreaded Bell twins return to the neighborhood and Cricket Bell is once again brought to the forefront of her life, throwing her emotions and life into chaos. Her childhood friends Calliope and Cricket had transformed into two divergent roles in Lola’s life as they all grew up next door to each other. While national ice skater Calliope lost interest in Lola and saw her as a nemesis there to steal her twin brother’s attention away, boy-inventor Cricket became Lola’s lifetime crush. Thankfully, they were rarely around and Lola thought she grew out of her feelings for Cricket when the Bells moved away to pursue Calliope’s career. And she also had Max… But as the Bells move back in next door, Lola is compelled to wonder the accuracy of her self-assessments.
The following section may contain some spoilers…
Experience: I loved this book and I am going to just dive into it. Despite the title more or less giving away the ending (either Lola will leave her present boyfriend for the boy next door or fumble with her feelings for the boy next door and return to her boyfriend), it is truly one of those journey-through-the-plot kind of novel and it is even more ripe with unfolding revelations because of the way Stephanie Perkins used her trademark first-person POV to reach each movement of Lola’s character development. The series of events that occur in Lola’s life, how she deals with each in the present either in reflection of her future aspirations as well as her past experiences kept me on edge. It was not very difficult to guess which ending the book will reach after reading a few chapters but it was very, very important to see how Lola would reach that conclusion all the same. Her reactions kept the suspense alive and the plot churning. And it was very interesting how Perkins managed to blend the character arc as a response to the plot conflict, which by the way was truly plot-driven and not just something the character built up in the protagonist’s head.
Moreover, as Lola transforms in the book, through her viewpoint, we also see this kaleidoscope of other very relevant characters transform, or rather their true natures reveal themselves. In fact, what makes Lola… the book so great is that Lola wouldn’t be Lola if it weren’t for the people in her life. Her parents support her career aspirations and this is an important aspect of Lola, who is really one of the most colorful characters I have come across in years. I kept imagining a butterfly with beautiful sparkly wings but one that could just as easily become a gray moth. And while her fashion sense made her a misfit in school, it’s also sort of okay because she has a great supportive best friend with whom she not only shares couture related traditions but who is also able to sanction Lola’s love affair with Max despite not being able to get along with Max herself.
Which brings us to the romantic conflicts. Max is obviously in a relationship with Lola because he is intrigued and attracted by her creative sense. But at the same time, it’s her quirky outfits that sort of niggle on him too, though he tries to claim that it is really her secretive ways. But this suggests Lola, who is all about expressing herself through her fashion, is really hiding from him because she is not fully sure of herself. An abject contrast to her relationship with Cricket, with whom she seems unable to hide anything about herself at all. Meanwhile, Cricket, as an inventor, actually feeds Lola’s aspirations with tangible contributions. Yet, she cannot consciously accept herself to be in his company because of their past conflicts. Honesty in relationships as well as with oneself is definitely a key theme of this novel. But then, the contrast between Max and Cricket is not only explored by Lola’s reaction to each love interest but also by through the interactions each possible hero has with the important people in Lola’s life. Despite the superficial similarities between Max and Cricket (creative, attractive, somewhat successful and with unique dress sense), the people Lola’s life respond differently to each.
In all this, enters Lola’s former drug addict and somewhat dissolute birth mother with whom she cannot abide and who is again living in her house and making life uncomfortable for everyone, another potential angle for Lola’s growth and self-acceptance. And even Anna and St. Clair, the wonderful heroine and hero from Anna and the French Kiss (first of the series), make appearances to further confuse Lola with their extremely adorable and heartwarmingly cohesive relationship by providing a contrast with her own relationship with Max while throwing her more frequently into Cricket’s path.
Really, with so many people so greatly invested in her life, how can a girl, who is simply trying to keep her boyfriend happy and not get involved with a former-present crush with all the seeming ability to devastate her again, not get confused? But, just as an aside, I would love to have as many creative and crazy people in my life even if they were a bit meddlesome.
Before I finish this review, I must also put in a word for Perkins’s method of world building in this novel. While in Anna…, Perkins spent long beautifully written passages describing Paris through Anna’s eyes, in Lola… she better employs her narrative genius to create individual settings to develop the reader’s sense of each character. Because, again, for Lola, all these people are essential. Perkins delves greatly into helping readers visualize Lola’s and Cricket’s bedrooms, her baker dad’s kitchen, Max’s apartment, even the living room where Lola’s mom moves in and transforms, each space an extension of the characters’ personalities and each a setting where some significant scenes of the novel unfold.
Last but not least, I always love Perkin’s name selection. Lola and Cricket, gotta love it!