From the BLURB:
Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn't believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit-more sparkly, more fun, more wild-the better. But even though Lola's style is outrageous, she's a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighbourhood.
When Cricket-a gifted inventor-steps out from his twin sister's shadow and back into Lola's life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.
Lola’s life is excellent. She has a kick-ass idea for her winter formal, her (older) boyfriend, Max, is a step up the social ladder and the house next door is still up for rent.
So what if her Marie Antoinette dress has some pannier-problems? Or that her dad’s are less than impressed with her tattooed, twenty-two-year-old boyfriend? Or that the Bell twins have actually moved home and the boy-next-door who broke her heart two years ago with them?
‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ is the sort-of-sequel to Stephanie Perkin’s smash hit contemporary YA romance, ‘Anna and the French Kiss.’
I love, love, loved ‘Anna’ when I read it last year. I have been a big fan of adult contemporary romances for a long time, but ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ was one of the first YA contemporaries I enjoyed as much (if not more) than books in its adult counterpart genre. So I was thrilled to learn that Ms Perkins intended to get on a role with her books and release two more Anna ‘companion’ novels. ‘Lola’ is the second, with ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ to come in the fall of 2012.
I think everything I loved about ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ has been revisited (but not rehashed) in ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’.
First off; setting. ‘Anna’ took place in Paris, and was a beautiful ode to the city of love. Admittedly, Ms Perkins had a tough task ahead of her coming up with an equally charming setting for her second book. But she accomplishes it with San Francisco. That’s right, the American city famous for the Golden Gate Bridge, gay pride, Alcatraz, fog and being the setting of ‘Full House’ (*sigh*, uncle Jesse). I love that Perkins set her story here, because the city had repercussions throughout the plot. First of all, Lola has two gay dads. Andy and Nathan adopted Lola from Nathan’s run-away, addicted sister Norah. It sounds very soap-operaish, but for Lola it’s completely normal. Norah was unstable and had Lola when she was just a teenager. Andy and Nathan had been in a stable and committed relationship for a long time, and wanted a baby – Lola needed them and vice versa. It may sound strange on the outside, but Perkins wonderfully illustrates the normal of Lola’s family. Her dads are both protective and loving (and neither of them is ‘the wife’, thank you very much) and even though Norah pops up to cause problems once in a while, Lola knows who her real parents are. I loved the family dynamic. It was missing from ‘Anna’, because of a boarding school plot and Etienne’s imperfect home life, so it was a nice switch-up to have ‘Lola’ be so family focused. And it’s a wonderful family. Nathan and Andy were both stand-outs for me. I would have liked more conflict and page-time with Lola’s birth mum, Norah, but I understand that theirs isn’t the sort of easily-summarised relationship that can be addressed in a primarily romance-focused book.
I’m lucky to live in a place that doesn’t have to hide what it is. Businesses like the Sausage Factory (restaurant), Spunk (hair salon), and Hand Job (manicures) are clear about the residents, but there’s a genuine sense of love and community. It’s a family. And like a family, everyone knows everyone’s business, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I like that the guys at Spike’s Coffee wave as I pass by. I like that the guys at Jeffrey’s know Betsy needs the large container of fresh Lamb, Yams and Vegies.
Secondly, the San-Fran scenery gave Lola the perfect romantic setting. Lola fell in love with the boy-next-door, Cricket Bell, when he stepped out in pinstripe pants two years ago. They don’t just live next door to each other, they have same-facing windows that are perilously close thanks to San Francisco architecture. I loved that Perkins used this little city-quirk to write some very sweet scenes between Cricket and Lola. Everything from broom handles to late night moon-talking makes for some very ‘awwww’ moments, all thanks to the city setting.
Something that carries over from ‘Anna’ into ‘Lola’ is the love triangle. When the book begins Lola is happy with her punk-rock (older) boyfriend, Max. That is, until Cricket Bell returns and gets her heart racing all over again. I really liked the romantic conflict that on the one hand; Lola loves the ‘cool’ factor that comes with dating the older, rugged Max. Cricket is very much the ‘Beta’ hero when compared to the tattooed rocker. But it forces Lola to step back and look at who she loves being with, but who she can’t live without.
Finally, I loved Lola. She’s amazing. She doesn’t just dress – she dresses to impress. She’s all about costumes and extravagance and I could totally picture her as a contestant on an upcoming season of ‘Project Runway’. Argh! I loved her. She’s creative and fearless, a little aimless in love but entirely lovable.
And don’t even get me started on Cricket . . . he’s a goofy gentleman with an interesting family history and thoroughly nerdy underbelly. He’s a very different YA hero – certainly not your typical bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks (hello Max!) who seems prevalent in much YA romance fiction. Cricket is instead, genuine. The nice boy all good girls should fall for – the one who normally finishes last. I adored him and want more like him in my romance books!
I did love ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’, but I didn’t really love the ‘companion novel’ tag. I don’t necessarily understand why ‘Lola’ had to be associated with ‘Anna’ at all? I would understand if ‘Lola’ was also set at the School of America in Paris. I would understand the ‘companion’ tag if ‘Lola’ was actually about one of the characters we first met in ‘Anna’; John, Meredith or Rashmi perhaps? Instead, the only tenuous connection that ‘Lola’ has to ‘Anna’ is the appearance of Anna and Etienne as co-workers at Lola’s local cinemaplex. And I did get the feeling that Anna and Etienne weren’t essential to the novel or Lola’s world – really, the helpful and lovey-dovey co-workers could have been entirely new secondary characters. If they worked at all it was as a certainty of love – Lola may just assume that Anna and Etienne are in the ‘puppy love’ stage of their relationship, but returning readers know the hurdles they went through to be together. Otherwise I really could have done without Anna again . . . not because I don’t love her, but because I think Lola was strong enough on her own.
Stephanie Perkins has done it again. She has confirmed that she’s deserving of the crown ‘Reigning Queen of Romantic YA’. ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ is another beautiful page-turner set in the gorgeous San-Fran with a quirky heroine and a gentlemanly hero. Divine!