Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. Dutton Books, 2011. Currently available.

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Face Value: This cover is a problem. I seriously think that Stephanie Perkins’ books don’t get enough recognition because they have covers that are a major turnoff. My problem with this cover is that a) I just can’t read this book in public without having fellow adults laugh in my face and b) the cover models don’t look enough like the characters.

Perkins spends so much time describing the appearance of her characters that I find it hard to believe the publisher didn’t take more care in styling the cover models. Yes, I see that the girl on the cover is wearing a quirky outfit and a fun wig, but she doesn’t look quite outlandish enough to be Lola at her best. And if we are to interpret this image as Lola when she is with Cricket, then she should be at her most colorful best, right? Not in a black dress. Cricket should have floppier, messier, taller hair and tighter pants. Although I give the publisher credit for the rubber bands and the permanent marker star on the back of his hand. (Yes, yes, I know I am being super picky, but the characters’ wardrobes are so much a part of the story that it irritated me that the details didn’t make it to the cover.)

Does it break the slate? No, not really, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. Sometimes books feature complex, conflicted girl characters (like Lola) who go through tough life situations. And sometimes those girls make stupid decisions (like Lola does). And sometimes, you want to grab those girls by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. Lola didn’t do much Slatebreaking in this book, but I think she learned some lessons that make her a stronger, more self-assured woman. And if a slate gets in her way in the future, I think she would be well equipped to break it.

Who would we give it to? Creative dressers and romantic souls. If you know someone who is typically a cynic but you suspect they secretly have a romantic comedy loving spirit tucked inside of them, they might enjoy this book. You should also give this book to anyone who enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss, because Anna and St. Clair make several appearances!

Review: Be forewarned – spoilers ahead!

If you were to see Lola Nolan walking down the street, you would stare. Even in the colorfully eccentric population of San Francisco, Lola stands out. She is a bold and creative dresser. Each outfit she composes is a fantastical costume, complete with carefully chosen accessories and handmade elements. Although her unique sense of style sometimes leads to social awkwardness at school, those who know and love Lola understand that her costuming is just a part of who she is.

To complete Lola’s wildly eccentric image, she has an aspiring rock star boyfriend, Max. Max is older. Much older. He’s 22 to her 17. But they’re making it work – sort of. Max doesn’t appreciate Lola’s overprotective parents, and Lola sometimes doesn’t appreciate Max’s post-concert shenanigans. Lola is feeling unsure about their relationship, but Max is so cool and she feels so grown up when she’s with him that she can’t decide what to do.

Things get complicated when Lola’s first love and neighbor, Cricket Bell, moves in next door after a few years away. The years have been good to Cricket. Lola finds herself unexpectedly swooning over Cricket’s kindness – and his tight pants and hipster style. Unfortunately, Cricket comes with a twin sister Calliope. Calliope is a rising star on the figure skating scene and, as a twin, kind of possessive of Cricket. Calliope would like Lola to stay far, far away from her brother. And Lola would like nothing more than for Calliope to disappear.

As I’m summarizing the story for you, I cannot help but get excited all over again about the charming cast of characters in this book. From Lola to her neighbors to her detective-in-training best friend Lindsey, Perkins has created this amazing group of people that you cannot help but love reading about. These characters are quirky and flawed yet lovable. They feel real. In the moments when these characters annoy me, it’s because they’re doing the things that would annoy me in real life. I think that this is the reason that Perkins’s books are so much fun to read – the characters feel like they might actually be people I would meet and enjoy interacting with.

Lola not only has to deal with some complications in her love life, but also in her family situation. She was adopted, and her biological mother Norah (her dad’s sister) sometimes pops in and out of her family’s life. Norah has struggled with addiction and has trouble getting her life together, and she comes to Lola’s family for help when things get tough. Lola feels very uncomfortable around her biological mom. It makes Lola super grumpy that she has to navigate this awkward relationship in addition to her boy troubles.

Lola’s adoptive parents, her two dads, are terrific characters. Perkins has written an amazing depiction of how a family with two dads can function just like a family that has heterosexual parents. The only reservation I had about the dads was that they were way overprotective of their daughter. It got kind of weird, like she was some sort of virgin prize to be protected. I get how a parent could get worked up if their child was dating someone much older, but it feels like some frank discussions about sexuality would be called for in that situation, rather than grounding and a lockdown. Some of this is explained in  when the dads claim that they don’t want Lola to run into the same trouble as her biological mom did, but still.

Speaking of sex, there was a sex-related moment in the story that I feel needs to be analyzed. After a particularly nasty fight with her family, Lola dashes out the door and into Max’s van. She spends the night rocking out at his concert, and later they have an implied sexual encounter. The next morning, Lola wakes up feeling guilty and awful about everything from the night before. I got worried at this point because I thought that Perkins might make this a “sex is bad!” moment, but it wasn’t. I felt that Perkins handled it nicely, showing that Lola didn’t regret having sex but instead regretted that she used sex as something to work out her anger and frustration.

After an intense build up of angst and frustration, Lola has this really lovely period of growth near the end of the book. She takes a time out from everything after she ends her relationship with Max. She dresses in black, focuses on work and school, and tries to p work out what she needs to be happy and fulfilled. Although she wants to dive head first into a relationship with Cricket, she knows that she needs some time to fix Lola before she can try to make Cricket and Lola work. So admirable. After the turmoil of the first two-thirds of the book, I was so proud to see Lola focusing on herself. It made the end of the book that much more satisfying.

This book is full of ooey-gooey teen love moments. And yes, you will sometimes be frustrated with Lola.  But she really comes into her own at the end of the book. There is a frantic situation in which Lola is the only one who can help. When she saves the day with her fabulous costuming skills, you will want to stand up and cheer. I’m really glad that Stephanie Perkins is writing fun, feel good books like this. After reading so much dystopia and supernatural stuff, Perkins’ books are really refreshing. That’s why, despite my reservations with the title, I’m really looking forward to Isla and the Happily Ever After in 2012.

Reviewed from library copy.

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3 Responses to Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

  1. First of all, I agree with you 100% about the covers for both this book and Anna and the French Kiss. I suppose the publishers have their reasons, but in both cases, I think there’s a squandered opportunity for some seriously kick-ass cover art. (Preferably of the non-photographed variety—more illustrations, please!)

    Second, I cannot begin to describe how frustrated I was by the presence and absence of sex in this book. First, I thought it was wonderful that Perkins gives us a teenage character who is happily not a virgin. And I agree that Lola’s “encounter” with Max is handled really well, in a way that doesn’t imply shame, per se, but rather, like you say, understandable confusion and regret.

    But the final chapters, although swoon-worthy, were really frustrating for me, because I felt as though Perkins made a point to prevent a sexual encounter between Lola and Cricket, instead opting for the classic “big arrival at the prom” finish—which doesn’t seem real, in my opinion. Instead, it feels like she’s set up this contrast of imperfect relationship supported by sex vs. perfect relationship that’s better than sex.

    Then again, I’m generally frustrated by the prudishness of a lot of YA fiction (though that doesn’t stop me from reading and mostly loving it).

    • Brianna says:

      You make a good point about the way that Perkins sets up a contrast in the two relationships. Lola’s relationship with Max is sexual, but her relationship with Cricket is all hand holding and rainbows. You’ve given me new perspective on that…definitely something to think about.

      Did you have a similar frustration with Anna and the French Kiss?

      • For whatever reason, I didn’t have the same frustration with Anna and the French Kiss, possibly because Anna follows the virginal and romantically inexperienced template pretty closely, so much so that it would have been unrealistic for her and St. Clair to just up and go at it. I think what made Lola so disappointing is that FOR ONCE the protagonist wasn’t a virgin when the book opened, which gives Perkins so many more options because there’s no specter of deflowering, and then…she does nothing with it.

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