|LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR|
Lola Nolan's favorite things include: the elaborately designed costumes she wears daily, her best friend, her parents, and her older, rocker boyfriend. They do not include Cricket Bell, former boy-next-door who's just moved back in and who broke her heart years earlier. She'd rather ignore the fact that Cricket and his superstar twin sister, Calliope, have moved back to the neighborhood, but when Cricket crashes back into her life and things with her boyfriend Max get more complicated, Lola must confront the fact that her feelings for Cricket might not be entirely gone.
The most difficult thing about reviewing Lola and the Boy Next Door is that it becomes impossible not to compare the book to Stephanie Perkins' debut (and this book's companion novel), Anna and the French Kiss. I'll try to steer clear of that as much as I can though, and judge this book on its own merits.
First, Lola. She's a character with a bit personality and a lot of opinions, but unfortunately a lot of her personality seemed surface-level to me. The descriptions of her "costumes," probably because I find fashion mostly boring and can't get into it, gave me little insight into who she actually was. The backstory with Cricket, a boy who she had been in love with for years before he broke her heart, was definitely one of the best parts of the book and set up their relationship once he moves back to the neighborhood, quite nicely. Though she's in love with Max, her two strict dads disapprove of the age difference (she's 17; he's 22) and her confusion over Cricket isn't helped by the friction in her and Max's relationship. Meanwhile Cricket, tall and awkward, seems to have no confusion over Lola. He's a character who has trouble hiding his feelings or not saying what's on his mind, and I liked this. While Lola seemed to always be hiding behind her clothes and her loudness, Cricket never was; it was like he was incapable of it.
Perkins is so excellent at writing the very real emotions (awkwardness and angst especially) that come with falling for someone and that's definitely true here. The complicated and sometimes conflicting emotions between Lola and Max, and then Lola and Cricket, are honest and well-written. However, the fact that I found it difficult to really connect with Lola meant that sometimes it was easier for me to identify with Cricket's emotions than hers. Because while the feelings are incredible, the relationship itself isn't as well-developed as I wanted it to be.
The setting of San Francisco (and here's where I have to talk about Anna) was written in much the same way that Paris is in Anna and the French Kiss -- Lola is enamored with her city and seems to approach it more as a tourist than a girl who has grown up in the city. She loves the color, the diversity, the progressiveness, and this is where the book fell into a strange territory for me. Because no matter how "different" or "quirky" your hometown is, it's your hometown, which means you take it for granted. It's home, no matter how much you love it, and I didn't get that sense from Lola and it threw me off.
Writing-wise, this book was cute and sweet and quirky and well-done. Some of the information felt info-dumped in the beginning, but this fairly quickly faded as the story took off. I have a feeling that some of the things that bothered me about it (Lola's feelings on her birth mother, for instance) have more to do with me and less to do with the book itself. All in all, this was a cute, quirky, sweet book but the fact is that I find it impossible to not compare it to Perkins' first novel, and for me Anna and the French Kiss was the stronger read.