Let me start off by saying: I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins. Not only her books, but Stephanie herself. From her blue-streaked hair to her vintage style to her fascinating twitter feed, I just like her as a person. She seems like someone with whom I would be friends, if I actually knew her in real life. Alas, I only know her through her books, and they are fantastic.
Her bio on her website describes her thusly: “I’ve always worked with books—first as a bookseller, then as a librarian, and now as a novelist.” This could practically be my story — I spent two years working in a bookstore and another four (or fourteen, depending on how you count) working in libraries, and now I’m tackling my first novel. The fact that her life track is similar gives me hope that I will also one day be a published author of fabulous books.
Anyway, I think that Stephanie’s work fills a gap in Young Adult literature. It seems as though the majority of the teen books out there are paranormal or fantasy; everything from Harry Potter to Twilight tackles something otherworldly, to varying degrees of success. But Stephanie bucks that trend; her books are about real girls in the real world.
I loved her debut, Anna and the French Kiss. It absolutely sparkled; the characters were relatable to an almost painful degree, and the Paris setting lent it an exotic air that was still firmly grounded in reality. It’s the kind of love story that every teenage girl hopes for, and it’s beautiful.
So, while I was very excited for Stephanie’s latest book, Lola and the Boy Next Door, I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t measure up. After all, when you start at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down, right? Fortunately, that’s not the case, and Lola didn’t disappoint.
The story is the tale of Lola Nolan, a seventeen-year-old aspiring costume designer in San Francisco. All Lola wants to do is wear a different outfit every day, graduate from high school, become a successful costume designer and spend the rest of her life with her rocker boyfriend, Max.
Unfortunately for Lola, things aren’t going her way. Her dads disapprove of her relationship (with good reason; Max is twenty-two and troubled), her boyfriend is acting distant, and her former neighbors just moved back to town, a development that has her completely freaked out. It’s not entirely clear why Lola is so disturbed by the Bell twins — Calliope was a mean girl, so Lola’s distaste is justified, but her real issue seems to be with Cricket, Calliope’s brother. By all appearances, Cricket is a genuinely nice guy, so it’s strange that he makes Lola so uncomfortable.
Eventually, the root of the problem is explained, and while it seemed a bit minor to me, I can see why it might be heartbreaking for a teen. Luckily for Lola, she and Cricket work out their issues, but new ones quickly surface. She once again finds herself attracted to her neighbor, but at the same time is still tangled up in a messy relationship with Max. As the story unfolds, Lola must decide exactly who and what she wants from life, even if it makes for some unflattering self-realizations.
Readers will find themselves rooting for Cricket and praying for Lola to ditch the vaguely slimy Max, which is obviously Perkins’ intention. There’s no mystery here as to who Lola chooses; the joy is in watching the story unfold as Lola become more self-confident and self-aware. Bonus: Anna and St. Clair (from Anna and the French Kiss) make a guest appearance as Lola’s co-workers.
I think one of Stephanie’s strongest talents as a writer is her ability to create fully-developed characters. She goes beyond superficial descriptions of appearance, and creates actual people with defining traits. Cricket isn’t just stylish, he wears pinstripes and rubber bands and writes on his hand. Lola isn’t just quirky, she talks to the moon and finds short guys unattractive and uses music for her costume inspiration. Max isn’t just a bad boy with ink, he specifically has tattoos of stars and spiderwebs and Where the Wild Things Are characters on his arms. The vividness of the characters transports you beyond the story and makes you feel as though you are reading about real people; you care about them as though they were your friends. And that’s the magic of a good book.