Friday, January 9, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins is the natural follow-up to last week's Anna and the French Kiss. Both books are part of a three-book series that ended with this year's Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Young Adult Fiction, Isla and the Happily Ever After. And while all three books have a different heroine and narrator, characters from the previous books do make appearances.

The Situation: Seventeen year-old Lola loves to dress up. And I don't mean dress up as in simply try on all of the clothes in her closet in an attempt to come up with immaculate and trendy outfits that will grab the attention of guys and the envy of girls. Lola likes to wear costumes, and wigs, and lots and lots of accessories. With Lola, it is almost as if everyday were Halloween. At the start of the story, Lola's next costume project includes making a dress Marie Antoinette might have worn, with the layers of undergarments included, for her high school's winter dance. She even intends to put together a wig two feet tall, completing the look. Her parents, Andy and Nathan, support her completely in her clothing choices and don't do anything to sway her. The only thing they would love to sway her away from is her boyfriend Max, who is the lead-singer in a local rock band...and 22 years-old. But Lola is adamant that Max is the one for her, and she does what she can to hold onto that belief even with the return of her first love, Cricket, who also happens to be her neighbor.

The Problem: Aside from wanting to walk into her school's winter dance in her huge dress and under her massive wig, with Max by her side, Lola also wanted to never see the Bell twins again. Both Cricket and his sister Calliope caused her plenty of pain before they moved away two years ago, allowing a string of renters to go in and out of the house next door. But when Lola sees a moving truck in the neighbor's driveway, she fears she is going to have to confront the past again, as well as the first boy that had a hold of her heart. Of course, Max has her heart now, and Cricket did break it once. It also doesn't help that the other Bell twin, Calliope, is not exactly a joy to be around. While keeping her distance may have been Lola's initial plan, it doesn't work out that way, and soon she and Cricket are spending more time together than ever. But as Max becomes more resentful and jealous, and Lola becomes more confused, it becomes apparent that something has to be done, and it won't be easy. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in modern-day San Francisco. As I mentioned in the introduction, this is the second book in the Anna and the French Kiss series. While Anna and St. Clair aren't incredibly prominent cast members, they do make enough of an appearance for the reader to see how their relationship is progressing now that they are both in college and away from Paris. A prominent theme that remains a constant from the beginning is the idea of wearing costumes. Two points are made: the first being that costumes can hide the real you, and if you're constantly wearing one are you ever really yourself? The second being that costumes often expose you by showing you for who you really are and what you really desire. In a strange way, both theories can be applied to Lola, something she has to figure out for herself as the book progresses. Another theme was the always interesting question of how much our past, or the past of our parents and perhaps other generations that preceded even them, determines who we are today and who we will be in the future. Lola's mother is actually her dad Nathan's sister, but she wasn't ready to raise a kid when she had her, and still has trouble pulling her life together. Lola often wonders if she is predestined for the same undesirable future as her mother, while simultaneously resolving to not have that happen.

My Verdict: As with Anna and the French Kiss, I still maintain that teenagers are the worst. However, this book doesn't have quite the same amount of tension between teenagers that the first one did, although there is more general angst, mostly from Lola and Max, and Max isn't even a teenager. Much of the general tension actually comes from Lola and her interaction with her parents, mostly over her relationship with Max. Even with this tension, I probably would have enjoyed the book more if Lola was more likable. While it isn't impossible to like a book even though the main character isn't that great, I had a hard time getting past Lola's pride, arrogance, and willful blindness about the situations going on around her. She generally can't be trusted, and like most teenagers, strongly believes she knows what is best and that everyone else is wrong. Also, she is essentially a manic pixie dream girl. Yeah, there is only so much of that I can handle. But overall, the story isn't bad. And it was nice to catch up with Anna and St. Clair. Also, since San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world, I always love having it as the setting in any book I read.

Favorite Moment: When Lola and her best friend Lindsay go as each other for Halloween, which really only requires Lindsay to dress up in costume as she wears fairly normal clothes every other day of the year, unlike her friend.

Favorite Character: Cricket is just an all-around fantastic guy, and it's not hard to see why Lola fell for him in the first place. He is the literal boy next door, and he enjoys making automatons and Rube Goldberg machines, like the one in the beginning of The Goonies that is over engineered to do the simple task of opening the front fence. He is also incredibly patient and long-suffering since his entire life has been spent following his sister around as she built her career as an ice skater, and he doesn't seem to resent it at all.

Recommended Reading: Of course I am going to recommend the first book in the series, Anna and the French Kiss. Both books have fabulous settings, but it is hard for pretty much any city to go up against Paris.    

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