Lola Nolan spends much of her life planning her next costume. She loves expressing herself through her clothes–the more outrageous, the better. In addition to being something of a clothes horse, Lola’s a good daughter and friend. Her life leading into her junior year looks to be pretty good: she’s got a hot, older, rock-star boyfriend, a good job at a local movie theater, and the perfect dress plan for the winter formal. Everything falls apart when the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket move back into the neighborhood. Now Lola’s forced to deal with her issues that she’s long repressed. If she’s really over what happened with Cricket all those years ago, why does she feel so confused whenever he’s around?
Here’s the thing about second novels. They often fail to live up to their predecessor. This is especially true when one considers companion novels. Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss was one of the most beloved books to come out of last year (and possibly ever to come out of the YA canon). To say that there was a lot of anticipation leading up to the release of Lola and the Boy Next Door is an understatement of the highest order. There was no possible way that Lola could live up to the hype.
The thing is, while Anna might be the more enjoyable read, Lola actually succeeds in ways that Perkins’s debut did not. While I loved Anna with all my heart (it is the book version of my happy place), it didn’t take risks the way that Lola did. In Lola, Perkins crafts a heroine who is not only unconventional but a little unlikable, and she allows for a slightly darker edge to creep into her story. That’s enough comparisons, though. Let’s get to the real reason we’re all here. Lola.
Perkins is a really, really good writer. Her prose is descriptive but direct. Her characters are some of the most-developed you’ll find in the YA world. Her dialogue is not only believable but genuinely funny–which is a rare treat. She creates settings that are atmospheric and take on a life of their own. No one writes unrequited longing like Perkins does. All of these things are present in Lola, which makes for an overall pleasant reading experience.
What is interesting to note about this book, though, is the risks Perkins took with the so-quirky-it’s-almost-grating Lola. Whereas Anna was a very likable heroine, a sort of everygirl that readers could get behind, Lola is a horse of a different color. She’s vivacious and unafraid to stand out, but she also keeps people at a distance through the use of her costumes. I’ve seen more than one review where the writer complained that they didn’t connect to Lola the way they wanted to, and I believe it. Lola’s holding in a lot of her issues, and that means that she’s holding in parts of herself that would otherwise come across to the reader. She’s got some painful issues to work through (while this relates to the Bell twins, I also think it relates more deeply to her issues with her birth mother). Lola is hiding in plain sight.
Cricket, on the other hand, is incapable of hiding anything. From the moment he reenters Lola’s life, he is unable to stop himself from saying exactly what he thinks. He is open and unafraid of his feelings. It is this that provides a nice juxtaposition to the character of Lola. The two of them have a nice back-and-forth that adds depth and tension to the story. The two also have some of the best on-page chemistry I’ve seen in quite some time.
The only real issue I had with the story was the handling of Lola’s older boyfriend, Max. I felt like he went through some serious character decay near the end of the book to make him less desirable to Lola and to readers. It’s this kind of plotting (which happens in YA a lot, I think) that irritates me so much. There was enough authentic tension in Lola’s relationship with Max without adding in elements that felt forced and tied the story up too neatly.
On the whole, Lola and the Boy Next Door deals with some slightly heavier stuff than Anna and the French Kiss did. Lola’s quirky personality isn’t going to work for some readers, but that’s okay. While this might not surpass Anna in readers’ esteem, it’s certainly a worthy companion novel. If I could live in the world of a book, it would probably be this one. Highly, highly recommended.
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. Dutton: 2011. Purchased copy.